How they got here: Everything the Vegas Golden Knights have achieved this season seems inexplicable, so let's get that out of the way as a caveat.
Vegas' first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Kings was a tight, defensive series -- the teams combined for just 10 goals in four games -- but the Golden Knights won each game by flexing their depth, timely penalty killing ... oh, and Marc-Andre Fleury's spectacular play. Against another Pacific Division foe in the second round, it was more of a grind, but Fleury maintained pace to keep the Knights afloat in a six-game series win over the San Jose Sharks.
The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, handled their first-round opponent, the Minnesota Wild, with relative ease. Then came the heavyweight second round against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.
"They're tough from top to bottom and made our lives miserable," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said after Game 7. During a seesaw series in which neither team won consecutive games (or capitalized on two of the best barns in the league for home-ice advantage) the Jets were best in the one contest that mattered: Game 7.
Here's how the Jets and Golden Knights match up in the Western Conference finals:
Goaltending: Fleury's numbers this postseason are just obscene. Of his eight wins, four have been shutouts. He has a .951 save percentage and 1.53 goals-against average. He also is rested, having played only 46 games in the regular season and only 10 through the first two rounds.
But Connor Hellebuyck, a Vezina Trophy finalist, sure isn't shabby, with a .927 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA in the playoffs. The 24-year-old has had a few off nights but seems to be rock solid in the outing after, and the ability to rebound is not one to underestimate. Advantage: Golden Knights
First line: Vegas' top line has been terrific all season but hasn't put up the playoff production other first units have. Jonathan Marchessault leads the Golden Knights with 11 points (four goals, seven assists), which ranks 11th among skaters these playoffs. Then again, let's remember the Knights have played only 10 games.
The Jets' first line is more productive, and probably more talented. No. 1 center Mark Scheifele is on fire. He now leads the NHL postseason with 11 goals, including seven -- all on the road -- against Nashville, which set a Stanley Cup playoffs record. Advantage: Jets
Depth: The Golden Knights regularly roll out three defensive pairings and four lines with no regard to matchups. "We really didn't have a choice," general manager George McPhee told ESPN in March. "We don't have the elite players that other teams have. We thought that perhaps if our third and fourth lines were better than other clubs' third and fourth lines, that could be a way to even things out." He has a point, but it still feels as if the Jets have more talent across the board.
Yes, second-line studs Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers didn't have their best series production-wise against Nashville, but their center, Paul Stastny, did (10 points during the series), and fourth-liners like Brandon Tanev are stepping up in a big way. Advantage: Jets
Defense: Vegas doesn't have a defenseman who profiles as a true shutdown No. 1, but it does have six men who are capable -- and none is overtaxed. (The ice time is quite evenly split.) The Knights are surrendering a high volume of shots, 33.3 per game; it's an area where the Jets have shined (just 28.6 per game, second-best mark of the 16 postseason teams).
Special teams: The Golden Knights' power play has been pretty pedestrian these playoffs, at 17.5 percent. The penalty kill, however, has been exceptional -- quashing 84 percent of opposing power plays. That's second among playoff teams, to the Kings (who have a sample size of only four games).
The Jets have put up so-so marks in both categories: 75 percent on the penalty kill, 22.6 percent on the power play. Advantage: Even
Health: Vegas is managing the health of William Carrier, who isn't much of a concern when it comes to offensive numbers but definitely adds a physical presence in the lineup. They also got a welcome addition last round in the return of defenseman Luca Sbisa.
The Jets welcomed back Mathieu Perreault last round, which helps with forward depth. They are remarkably healthy right now. Advantage: Jets
Coaching: Gerard Gallant has had to make slight adjustments last round, such as subbing Oscar Lindberg for Tomas Tatar -- a forward his GM gave up a lot for at the trade deadline -- as well as inserting Ryan Carpenter and shuffling around David Perron and Alex Tuch. It all seemed to pay off.
There's nothing to really critique Paul Maurice for, perhaps in part because he hasn't had to make as many decisions. Advantage: Golden Knights