Stars Win West, Await Playoff Opponent

DALLAS, TEXAS - APRIL 11: Jake Oettinger #29 of the Dallas Stars in action during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at American Airlines Center on April 11, 2024 in Dallas, Texas. | Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

For the first time since the 2002-03 season, the Dallas Stars will be the number-one seed in the Western Conference during the upcoming NHL playoffs.

Dallas came up with two crucial points with a 2-1 come-from-behind shootout win over the St. Louis Blues in its regular-season finale after entering the night with a two-point lead over the Vancouver Canucks, leaving Vancouver four points behind as it enters its season finale on Thursday. That also means Dallas will have a home-ice advantage against anyone except for the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.

“It feels like we did what we had to do,” forward Jason Robertson told the media postgame. “It’s definitely an accomplishment we should be proud of, but it’s not going to be an easy team, whoever you play in the playoffs. I’m just happy we gave ourselves home ice and gave us a good chance in the playoffs.”

The Stars will have to wait until late Thursday night to find out who they will face in the first round as the season wraps up on the West Coast. It will either be the Los Angeles Kings or the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, who eliminated Dallas in last year’s Western Conference Final.

Both teams have clinched the playoffs but enter their final games separated by just one point in the standings. If the Kings beat Chicago, and Vegas loses to Anaheim, Dallas will play the Golden Knights. However, the Stars will face the Kings if Vegas gets any points on Thursday.

“We’ve got to get our preparations for both those teams, and then we still don’t know when we’ll start, whether that’s Sunday, or Monday, or another day, so there’s still a lot of things up in the air,” head coach Pete DeBoer explained. “Unfortunately, we won’t get to enjoy it for very long.”

“It’s not easy, but it is what it is, and that’s what I love about the NHL is just the parity of the league and the battles down the stretch to get in,” he continued. “There was some great games in the last two weeks, and there’s a reason the first round of the NHL playoffs, some people call it ‘the best two weeks in sports.’ It’s an absolute gauntlet of good teams and great hockey. We’ve gotta be prepared for that.”

Dallas has been red hot lately, winning 12 of its final 14 games. A big reason for the improvement has been the overall defensive improvement, especially the recent performances of goalie Jake Oettinger, who has allowed more than two goals just twice in the last month. On Wednesday, he made a couple of brilliant saves, including one for which he went airborne across the crease.

“He looks confident. He looks like he’s back — not overthinking things, just reacting,” DeBoer said of his goalie. “The two empty net saves were unbelievable. With our group [and] the way we play, if he can play that way and make a couple of huge saves a night, when we do have breakdowns because we don’t have a lot of them, we’re going to be really tough to beat.”

The team has an off day Thursday before beginning their postseason preparation.

The Stars’ playoff schedule will be released once their opponent is determined, but the overall NHL Playoffs are expected to begin on Monday. Dallas will host the first two games against whoever it faces.

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