Stars preparing for Oilers’ stellar offense in conference finals

After the calendar flipped to 2024, the Dallas Stars collected 65 points in the regular season. The only Western Conference squad that racked up more was Edmonton with 67, and the Oilers played one more game.

It should come as no surprise that the Stars and Oilers are meeting when the Western Conference finals kick off on Thursday in Dallas.

“There’s only four teams left now and everyone’s here for a reason,” Edmonton defenseman Cody Ceci said on Wednesday. “They’re all great teams and know how to win games, so it just gets tougher and tougher and we’re going to have to bring our A-game.”

Dallas, which claimed the conference’s regular-season title, won two of three meetings between the teams in 2023-24. The Oilers, long known for their offensive prowess and led by the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, advanced to this point by clamping down defensively to beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of their semifinal series.

“Through the playoffs, every team that has success is good defensively,” Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch said. “We have to be a tight-checking team and limit the chances that we give up. We know as a team there will be mistakes and there will be chances, and the other team has some really good players that will make some plays, but we cannot get away from playing a tight-checking game.”

The Oilers boast the best power-play and penalty-kill numbers in this year’s playoffs, and it would appear that they are soon receiving another boost. Veteran forward Adam Henrique, who was injured in the final game of Edmonton’s opening-round series against the Los Angeles Kings and skated in Game 2 of the Canucks set, is expected to return to the lineup, possibly as early as Thursday.

Dallas lost the first two games of its first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights before regrouping and ousting the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games. The Stars followed that up by defeating the Colorado Avalanche, the 2022 champions, in six games.

“It’s definitely a good test to go through those two teams early,” Dallas forward Mason Marchment said. “It speaks a lot to what we have in here and what we’re going to have to keep rolling with. There’s no step back and we have to keep taking steps forward.”

As much as the Oilers have improved their defensive play, they are still capable of whitewashing teams with their offensive might. That said, the Stars feel prepared having vanquished a pair of teams that boast plenty of scoring touch.

“With those teams, there’s some big-time players, like (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Cale) Makar, (Jack) Eichel,” Dallas forward Joe Pavelski said. “And some things they do, as far as rush. (The Oilers are) a great rush team, like we saw in those other teams.”

Curiously, the Stars, who were eliminated by the Golden Knights in last year’s conference finals, have dropped Game 1 in both rounds so far. They have reached the conference finals three times in five years.

On the injury front, Dallas forward Roope Hintz missed the last two games of the Colorado series due to an upper-body injury and didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice. However, coach Peter DeBoer said Hintz skated before the rest of the squad and is listed as day-to-day.

–Field Level Media