Will there be a return trip to Dallas for Game 6? Or will there be an extended stay in Las Vegas for the start of the Stanley Cup Final?
Plus, could there be another game that goes into overtime?
These are a few of the questions entering Game 5 of the Western Conference finals between the Dallas Stars and the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC and ESPN+) at T-Mobile Arena. A series that has seen three of its four games decided in overtime once again comes with a prize at the end for whoever walks away with the win.
For the Golden Knights, a win would give them their second Western Conference title in the franchise's six-year history. If the Stars win, they'd force a Game 6 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, knowing that captain Jamie Benn would be eligible to return following his two-game suspension for a cross-check on Golden Knights captain Mark Stone in Game 3.
Now that you know what's at stake, we've put together a guide on what to watch from each team, along with keys to victory from Ryan S. Clark and in-depth statistical analysis from ESPN Stats & Information.
Clark's paths to victory
Stars must continue to get high-danger chances
What was different for the Stars in Game 4 compared to their three previous contests in the Western Conference finals? How about the fact they had nearly as many high-danger scoring chances in one game as they had in the first three games combined.
No, really. That's not hyperbole. Dallas had a grand total of 19 high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play in its first three games, according to Natural Stat Trick. Yet in Game 4, the Stars finished with 15 high-danger chances in those 5-on-5 sequences and were able to unlock a portion of the ice that's been central to the Golden Knights' playoff success.
Few teams have been stronger than the Golden Knights this postseason when it comes to limiting high-danger chances. They're allowing 10.5 high-danger chances per 60, again according to Natural Stat Trick. That's third in the playoffs. Only the Minnesota Wild and the -- yeah, you guessed it -- Stars have allowed fewer high-danger chances per 60 than the Golden Knights.
It's what made Jason Robertson's two-goal performance quite pivotal. Yes, there's the fact he now has four goals in this series. But the fact those goals came within 10 feet of the net and one of them came in 5-on-5 play? There's a chance that what the Stars did in Game 4 could serve as a blueprint for how to find success on Saturday and beyond.
Dallas must receive contributions from more players
Going back to Robertson, this series has seen him find the consistency that eluded him in the conference semifinal series against the Seattle Kraken. He went from zero goals in seven second-round games to scoring four goals through four games of this round.
You might be feeling a "but" coming on and, well, you're correct. Robertson has scored half of the Stars' eight goals this series, which once again reignites the conversation about the importance of receiving more offensive contributions beyond one player. On the whole, the Stars have proved they can get goals from everyone in their lineup. It's why they have had 16 different players score at least one goal.
That's tied with the Golden Knights for the most individual goal scorers in the playoffs. But it also comes with the understanding they might need more than just Robertson if they want to do more than force a Game 6.
Look at who have been some of the Stars' biggest contributors. Tyler Seguin, who is fourth on the team in playoff goals, hasn't scored in his past nine games, and has only one point in that span. Wyatt Johnston, who is tied for fifth in scoring, has not scored a goal or recorded a point in the conference finals. Until his assist in Game 4, Max Domi hadn't recorded a point in his past four games, while Mason Marchment has one point -- a goal -- in his past seven games.
Pay attention to the patterns for Vegas
Now that we have a little bit of time, there's something worth pointing out about the Golden Knights this postseason. They don't really lose that much. Their Game 4 overtime loss was just the fourth time the Golden Knights have lost this postseason. Furthermore, the Golden Knights have not lost consecutive playoff games this year.
As for what the Golden Knights have done after those losses? Let's just say there is a pattern within their pattern. They did it to the Winnipeg Jets after losing Game 1 in the first round, and they did it twice to the Edmonton Oilers after losing Games 2 and 4 in the second round.
Here's how those games have gone. The Golden Knights give up the opening goal within the first 10 minutes of the first period. And while the Golden Knights score a response goal, they've actually saved their most emphatic salvos for either the second or third periods, when they have broken out for three goals in a single frame in each of those games.
They put the Jets away with a three-goal third period in Game 2. They did it to the Oilers with a three-goal second period in Game 2 before doing it again with another three-goal second period in Game 5. And for those scoring at home? Seven of those nine goals came in 5-on-5 play -- which shows the Golden Knights don't need the extra-skater advantage to put teams away.
Don't let Roope Hintz cook ... anymore
You may have noticed Roope Hintz in Game 4. How could you not? He is, after all, a hulking 6-foot-3, do-everything center who has been so dominant that in 17 postseason games, he's one point shy of scoring a third of the points he scored in 73 regular-season games. To repeat: Hintz has 24 points in 17 postseason games, after scoring 75 points in 73 regular-season games.
Hintz had a pair of secondary assists in Game 4 that came with their own significance in that they were his first points since breaking out for three points in Game 1. Given the Golden Knights kept Hintz without a point for two games, what was it that changed in Game 4 that saw him grab two points?
It's possible it could be a matter of matchups. Natural Stat Trick shows that Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy consistently used his top defensive pairing of Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo in Game 2 as a way of containing Hintz. Martinez logged a little more than 12 minutes against Hintz, while Pietrangelo was just a few seconds shy of 12 minutes against him in Game 2. The Stars' Finnish dynamo finished that game with two shots and zero points while his line as a whole did not record a single point in 5-on-5 play.
Cassidy used a rotation of defensemen against Hintz and his line in the four-goal win in Game 3, whereas Game 4 saw Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud receive the most ice time against Hintz. Hague had 8:13 in 5-on-5 time against Hintz and his line, with Whitecloud checking in at 7:58. The result was they were on the ice for the game-tying goal in the second period. So, while Hague and Whitecloud are the seventh-most used defensive pairing in 5-on-5 ice time in the playoffs, it is also possible Cassidy could either use them or go back to Martinez and Pietrangelo in an attempt to tap into the success the latter had in Game 2.
Notes from ESPN Stats & Information
Vegas can clinch its second Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history (also made it in 2018). The Golden Knights would be the eighth franchise in NHL history to reach the Final multiple times within their first six NHL seasons, following the Edmonton Oilers (three times), St. Louis Blues (three times), New York Rangers (three times), Boston Bruins (three times), original Ottawa Senators (three times), Montreal Maroons (two times) and Toronto Arenas/St. Patricks (two times).
Both of Vegas' goals in Game 4 came from inside of 10 feet. For the series, they've seen success when getting to net. Eight of their 13 goals (61.5%) in this series have been within 15 feet.
William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault both recorded their eighth goal of the 2023 playoffs in the Game 4 loss. That is tied for the most goals in a single postseason in Golden Knights history with Alex Tuch (2020) and Marchessault (2018).
Golden Knights defensemen recorded 15 shots on goal in Game 4, their most in a single game in these playoffs. Game 4 marked the sixth time that the Vegas defense corps recorded at least 10 shots on goal.
Adin Hill made 16 saves off the rush in Game 4. He leads all goaltenders in the playoffs with a .973 save percentage on shots coming off the rush, according to Stathletes.
After going 1-for-7 on the power play in the first three games of the series, the Stars went 2-for-2 on the power play in Game 4, including the game winner in overtime. It was the sixth time this postseason Dallas had multiple tallies with the extra skater, and first in its previous seven games.
In the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Stars are converting 32% of their power-play opportunities, which would be the highest by the franchise in a single postseason since team tracking first began in 1977-78. The current franchise record is 31% by the North Stars in 1983.
Jason Robertson recorded his first career multigoal game in the playoffs, giving him 52 goals when combining the regular season and playoffs. In Stars/North Stars franchise history, only Brian Bellows (59 in 1989-90), Dino Ciccarelli (58 in 1981-82) and Mike Modano (57 in 1993-94) have more goals than Robertson's 52.
Jamie Benn was suspended for Game 4 and will be suspended for Game 5 as well. In his place was 26-year-old Fredrik Olofsson, who played just over 10 minutes and had five shots on goal, which was second most behind Jason Robertson's 11. Olofsson became the third player in the 2023 playoffs to have a game with five shots on goal in 11 minutes of ice time or less, along with Daniel Sprong and Paul Stastny.
Roope Hintz recorded two assists to give him a league-leading 24 points this postseason. Hintz's total is tied for sixth most in a single postseason in franchise history with Brett Hull (24 in 2000) and five away from the franchise record held by Steve Payne (1981) and Brian Bellows (1991).
Miro Heiskanen had two assists in Game 4, his 10th and 11th assists of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, the second time he has reached double digits in the postseason. Only two other defensemen in franchise history have multiple 10-assist postseasons with the franchise: Brad Maxwell (twice) and Sergei Zubov (twice).