DALLAS — The Dallas Stars eliminated the Seattle Kraken with a 2-1 win in Game 7 on Monday night, thanks to a strong defensive effort in front of goaltender Jake Oettinger.
Forwards Roope Hintz and Wyatt Johnston had the goals for the Stars, who will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference finals beginning Friday in Nevada. Dallas and Vegas previously met in the conference finals in 2020, when the Stars eliminated the Golden Knights in five games.
Dallas coach Peter DeBoer was the coach for the Golden Knights in the prior series. He was fired in 2022 after three campaigns and took over the Dallas bench last summer.
“There’s a lot to unpack there. [I’ll] just enjoy tonight and talk about that as we go forward,” DeBoer said of facing Vegas.
With the win over Seattle, DeBoer moved to 7-0 all time in Game 7s. He became just the third coach in NHL history to win a Game 7 with four different franchises — New Jersey Devils, San Jose Sharks, Vegas and Dallas.
“I think if your coach is back there freaking out and hitting the panic button every time you lose, I think that trickles down into the group. He’s the exact opposite of that,” Oettinger said.
After six games that saw a total of 49 goals scored between Dallas and Seattle, Game 7 was an intense goalie duel at American Airlines Center.
Oettinger (21 saves) improved to 24-2-3 this season in games after a loss. He was pulled in the Stars’ Game 6 defeat at Seattle that pushed the series to seven games.
“I don’t think I had the best series of my career. I feel like my best hockey’s still ahead of me,” Oettinger said. “That’s playoff hockey. It’s up and down. You think you might be out of it, and next thing you know you’re headed to the conference final.”
Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer also was outstanding, making 26 saves that included several high-danger chances from the Stars.
Hintz put the Stars up late in the second period. Defenseman Esa Lindell lobbed the puck from the Dallas defensive zone to the Seattle blue line, where Kraken defender Jamie Oleksiak tried to play it. But Hintz flew in and swiped the puck away, skating in unabated and snapping the puck over goalie Grubauer for the 1-0 lead that the Stars carried into the intermission. It was the ninth goal of the postseason for Hintz, tallied at 15:59 of the period.
It remained that way until rookie forward Johnston scored a brilliant goal at 12:48 of the third period, skating in quickly on the forecheck, then flipping a backhand shot off the mask of Grubauer and into the net for the 2-0 lead.
Johnston’s goal occurred one day after his 20th birthday — he was born on May 14, 2003 — prompting fans in the upper deck to serenade him with “Happy Birthday” after he scored.
“It’s definitely one of the better birthday gifts. It was awesome to just be able to pitch in like that,” Johnston said.
Seattle’s Oliver Bjorkstrand scored with 17.6 seconds left and the Kraken net empty to end Oettinger’s shutout bid.
For the Kraken, the loss ended the first postseason run for the 2-year-old franchise. Seattle upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in the first round before pushing Dallas to the limit.
“I’m super proud, honestly,” Kraken center Yanni Gourde said. “We built something here this year. I think we took a lot of steps in the right direction. Every time, we stepped up. We never quit.”
The Stars won their only Stanley Cup in 1999. They last made the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the COVID-19 pandemic postseason “bubble” in Edmonton.
Oettinger believes there’s something special about this team.
“When you ask me ‘Do think you can win?’ I feel like not every year you can honestly say ‘yes.’ And I think this year, I feel like we can win it,” he said. “We have everything. When we play the way that we want to play and we do the little things right, I think we can beat anyone. Having that belief is pretty cool. Everyone in the locker room thinks that. That’s a unique thing and not every team can say that every year.”