Schuyler Dixon / AP
Thursday, May 18, 2023 | 6:50 p.m.
Pete DeBoer knows the welcome wagon has long left T-Mobile Arena.
It’s been just over a year since he was fired as coach of the Golden Knights, and almost a year since the Dallas Stars hired him. DeBoer has faced Vegas three times this season — twice at T-Mobile Arena — winning each meeting.
The Western Conference Final will carry the narrative of DeBoer facing the team that moved on from him, but the honeymoon phase is too far gone to make it about that.
“I think that stuff for me is in the rear-view mirror,” DeBoer said. “I’m all in with the Dallas Stars and our group of players here now.”
DeBoer and the Stars will face the Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final with Game 1 on Friday at T-Mobile Arena (5:30 p.m., ESPN). Dallas is in the final four for the second time in four years. The last time came against the Golden Knights coached by — you guessed it — DeBoer, who was with Vegas from 2020-22.
Dallas won that series in five games before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games when the Stanley Cup was contested in a bubble in Edmonton due to the pandemic.
But while the Golden Knights are in their fourth conference final in their six-year history — DeBoer at the helm of two of them — DeBoer is in his fifth in eight years. He’s only reached the NHL final once in that span.
“You get to this point with the final four, the margins are razor-thin,” DeBoer said. “Both teams are prepared, well-coached, have a gameplan. The players decide this.”
The Stars have been close in their own right. This is their fourth trip to the playoffs in five years. Two eliminations came in seven games — the 2019 second round against the eventual champion St. Louis Blues, and last season’s first round against Calgary.
That Game 7 in Calgary is better remembered for the losing effort. Stars goalie Jake Oettinger nearly won the game himself by making 64 saves, but couldn’t stop the final shot in the 3-2 overtime loss.
The 24-year-old Oettinger seized the starting job last season and further cemented it this season with a Vezina Trophy-caliber season. Oettinger won 37 games in the regular season with a .919 save percentage and five shutouts.
The Stars’ hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the fourth time in franchise history will hinder on Oettinger. He went 3-0-0 with a .967 save percentage and just 0.96 goals allowed against the Golden Knights this season. Oettinger credits DeBoer’s guidance for Dallas’ improvement.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed from Pete is that calming presence,” Oettinger said. “When it starts at the top like that with your coach, it trickles down.”
The Stars have needed that zen this postseason.
Dallas rallied in its first-round series against Minnesota after veteran Joe Pavelski suffered a concussion in Game 1. The Stars trailed the series 2-1 but won three straight.
Against the second-year Seattle Kraken in Round 2, it took seven games to advance. Dallas rebounded from a 6-3 loss in Game 6 to win 2-1 at home in Game 7. That win moved DeBoer to 7-0 all-time in Game 7 situations.
“You learn most about people in your group when adversity hits and your back is against the wall,” DeBoer said. “I learned a lot about our group that night. That excites me about going forward here.”
There’s a mutual respect between the Golden Knights players and their former coach. DeBoer was at the forefront of watching players like defensemen Zach Whitecloud and Nic Hague develop into mainstays on the NHL roster.
But that’s where it starts and ends.
“Coaches rotate all the time,” Whitecloud said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side. We’ve got a job to do here and we’re focusing on what’s happening with this group and what we have to do to beat the Stars.”
This is the fifth time DeBoer and the Golden Knights are intertwined in the postseason. As coach of the San Jose Sharks, he lost one series (2018 second round) and won one (2019 first round).
One more time for good measure won’t hurt.
“It’s always an honor to be coaching this time of year,” DeBoer said. “You never take it for granted.”
Danny Webster can be reached at 702-259-8814 or [email protected]. Follow Danny on Twitter at twitter.com/DannyWebster21.