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Position breakdown: How Knights, Stars stack up in 1st-round series

The Golden Knights will meet the Dallas Stars for the third time in five years in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The first-round series, which begins Monday in Dallas, matches former Knights coach Pete DeBoer against Vegas for the second straight year. He will be looking for his first series win in the matchup.

The Knights eliminated the Stars in six games last season in the Western Conference Final, and Dallas ousted Vegas, coached by DeBoer, in five games in the 2020 conference finals.

A trip to the Stanley Cup Final won’t be on the line this season. But the top-seeded Stars will be trying to knock off the defending champions, who are attempting to become only the third team this century to win back-to-back titles.

“Real balanced hockey team,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said of the Stars. “I know they’re playing the same way, but they’re probably playing it better.”

The teams will be meeting for the first time since Dec. 9, when the Knights took a 6-1 win at American Airlines Center. They swept the season series 3-0.

A lot has changed since then.

The core of the Stars has changed significantly with the addition of their younger players to the lineup, including right wing Logan Stankoven, 21, and defenseman Thomas Harley, 22.

The Knights, who qualified as the second wild card, have added defenseman Noah Hanifin, right wing Anthony Mantha and center Tomas Hertl to a team that outscored Dallas 11-4 in their three meetings.

Here’s a position-by-position matchup:

Left wing

Knights: Ivan Barbashev, Chandler Stephenson, Brett Howden, William Carrier

Stars: Jason Robertson, Mason Marchment, Jamie Benn, Sam Steel

From a numbers standpoint, Dallas runs away with this advantage.

Some of the Stars’ top point producers are on the left side, and it starts at the top with their superstar Robertson, who had an 80-point season. Dallas also has 20-goal scorers in Marchment (22) and Benn (21).

The Knights have a more physical presence at left wing.

That starts with Barbashev and his checking presence on the top line. He finished with 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in his first full season with the team.

Carrier could return after missing the final few weeks of the season with an upper-body injury. He would round out one of the NHL’s best fourth lines.

Center

Stars: Roope Hintz, Matt Duchene, Wyatt Johnston, Radek Faksa

Knights: Jack Eichel, Tomas Hertl, William Karlsson, Nicolas Roy

The centers might dictate how the series goes.

The Stars signed Duchene to a one-year deal July 1, and he rewarded them with his third consecutive 25-goal season.

He and Hintz, who had his third straight 30-goal season, create a dynamic top six. There’s also the 20-year-old Johnston, who scored 30 goals.

But the Knights are no slouches down the middle, either.

Eichel finished with 68 points (31 goals, 37 assists) despite missing 19 games. In terms of all-around production, the all-star center was the Knights’ best player.

Karlsson had a 30-goal season as the third-line center, and Hertl gives them a needed net-front presence.

Roy is coming off a career-high 41 points.

Right wing

Stars: Joe Pavelski, Evgenii Dadonov, Logan Stankoven, Craig Smith

Knights: Jonathan Marchessault, Pavel Dorofeyev, Mark Stone, Keegan Kolesar

The Knights get a good chunk of their scoring from the right side.

It starts with Marchessault, who had a career-high 42 goals and led the Knights in scoring with 69 points.

Dorofeyev scored 13 goals in 47 games in his first extended look at the NHL level.

The Knights could have more reinforcements on the right side if Stone returns. The captain has been a noncontact participant at practice the past week, and his presence has brought a morale boost to the locker room.

Pavelski remains a constant at age 39 after a 67-point season. Dadonov and Smith are reliable veterans, but the wild card is Stankoven, who had 14 points in 20 games and will be playing in the playoffs for the first time.

Defensemen

Stars: Miro Heiskanen, Thomas Harley, Ryan Suter, Chris Tanev, Esa Lindell, Nils Lundkvist

Knights: Noah Hanifin, Alex Pietrangelo, Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez, Nic Hague

It’s arguably the deepest position for either team.

Both teams made impactful additions to their blue line at the trade deadline. Dallas added the reliable veteran Tanev, giving them structure to an offensive-heavy defense group.

Dallas’ blue line is still led by Heiskanen, who had a 54-point season.

Hanifin brought a similar impact. He had 12 points in 19 games with the Knights and filled in admirably for Pietrangelo, who missed 13 of the final 15 games with an illness.

Goalies

Stars: Jake Oettinger

Knights: Logan Thompson

Only two goalies since March 17 have posted a save percentage of .925 or better and allowed fewer than 2.20 goals per game.

Both are playing in this series.

Oettinger and Thompson were instrumental to their teams having strong finishes to the season. Oettinger shook off a rough start by finishing 10-1-0 with a .941 save percentage.

Thompson’s .926 save percentage and 2.14 goals allowed were vital to the Knights winning 10 of their final 16 games and qualifying for the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Cassidy hasn’t committed to a Game 1 starter, but all signs point to Thompson. Adin Hill has allowed three goals or more in 14 of his past 16 starts and is still trying to round into form after battling lower-body injuries.

Contact Danny Webster at dwebster@reviewjournal.com. Follow @DannyWebster21 on X.

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