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Stars’ Pete DeBoer puts a perfect Game 7 record on the line against a familiar Vegas foe

DALLAS – Dallas Stars coach Pete DeBoer will make the walk from the locker room to the American Airlines Center bench for Sunday’s Game 7 with more confidence than most coaches would have in a must-win game.

At least, he should.

Statistically, he is the best Game 7 coach in the history of the sport by a wide margin. A win on Sunday would be his eighth. It would tie him with Darryl Sutter for the most Game 7 wins behind a bench in NHL history. The difference is that DeBoer has only coached in eight of them.

His perfect 7-0 record is by far the best of any coach. There are 11 bank bosses with at least five such wins, and all of them, except DeBoer, have also suffered defeats.

The next undefeated coach in Game 7s is Hall of Famer Tommy Ivan, who went 4-0 against the Detroit Red Wings in the 1940s and 1950s. A win on Sunday would give DeBoer double that total, which is incredible considering the parity in today’s NHL.

“There’s nothing better than Game 7s,” DeBoer said Friday night. “That’s what you dream of when you grow up: playing in it. The next best thing is coaching it, so I’m just excited.

“Let’s go home and drop the puck.”

Most coaching wins in Game 7 history

Coach G7 wins G7 losses

Darryl Sutter

8

3

Piet de Boer

7

0

Scotty Bowman

6

3

Pat Burns

6

3

Mike Keenan

5

5

(NHL stats)

What is DeBoer’s secret?

“I wish it were that easy,” he said, laughing. “I wish it was just a pregame speech that I could regurgitate every time and guarantee a win, but each of those Game 7s is different, as (Sunday) night will be.”

Sunday will be the eighth Game 7 of DeBoer’s career, and the Vegas Golden Knights will be part of half of it. The organization is well aware of DeBoer’s perfect track record. It has been a victim of it once and a beneficiary of it twice.

The 2019 second round series will forever live in the memories of San Jose Sharks and Golden Knights fans. DeBoer’s Sharks erased a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 at SAP Center. The Golden Knights dominated the game and took a commanding 3-0 lead late. Then-Vegas forward Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major for crossing Joe Pavelski in the final minutes, and the Sharks scored four straight power-play goals and ultimately won in overtime. It was the game that led to the new NHL rule requiring all major penalties to be reviewed by officials.

After all that drama, DeBoer was hired to coach the Golden Knights less than a year later.

During his introductory press conference in January 2020, DeBoer joked, “I’ve seen more of these guys in the last three years than my wife and kids.” He also said that the first meeting with the players would be “a little awkward, maybe like meeting an old ex-girlfriend and not ending well.”

Since then, the meetings have only become more frequent.

He was behind Vegas’ bench for two Game 7s in three seasons: a hard-fought 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 playoffs in the bubble in Edmonton and a 6-2 blowout of the Minnesota Wild in 2021. Now he is back on the opposing team’s bench against Vegas for the fourth time in the postseason.

There are no secrets as the Golden Knights and Stars prepare for Sunday’s winner’s game.

DeBoer coached many of the Golden Knights’ current players in Vegas for three seasons. He knows their habits and tendencies, as does Stars assistant Misha Donskov, who coached in Vegas for six seasons until last year’s Cup win. On the other hand, Vegas players are very familiar with DeBoer’s system, and Vegas assistant John Stevens coached in Dallas for three seasons from 2019 to 2022.

With so many ties connecting both teams, not to mention all the playoff history between them, there is a remarkable level of familiarity. Vegas and Dallas have faced off in 18 playoff games over the past five seasons, with each team winning nine times. The Stars topped Vegas in the 2020 Western Conference finals. The Golden Knights returned the favor in the 2023 Western Conference finals. Now the sides will play one more time to decide the rubber match.

“I think we know each other well, and now it’s about rest, recovery and preparation,” DeBoer said. “This is what it’s all about. This is exactly the place you want to be: playing to get ahead with one game at home. Let it fly.”

The strange thing about this particular Game 7 is that there is an argument that both sides are disappointed that it has reached this point. Leading 3-2, the Stars had a chance to close out the series Friday night in Las Vegas, but were unable to do so. On the other hand, the Golden Knights returned home 2-0 after the first two games in Dallas, so they certainly weren’t thinking at the time that they needed a Game 7.

“Neither of us is necessarily happy with how things turned out in the end, but I think we’re both happy to be here,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You know what I mean? It’s both sides of it. It was a very entertaining, interesting series with the swings, and here we are. So it’s probably fitting that it’s a Game 7, and I guess it’s very will be close.”

The difference between the teams was razor thin. Vegas has scored fifteen goals, and the Stars have scored fourteen. Apart from a few late empty-net goals, each of the six matches was decided by just one goal.

“It’s so tight,” star forward Tyler Seguin said. “They are two great teams. They’re the Stanley Cup champions. Nothing is easy with that. The games have been great. It was exciting and fun to be a part of it. Hopefully we get that important next game.”

After playing their best game of the series in Game 6, Golden Knights players are hoping for more of the same Sunday.

“It’s do or die,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said after Friday’s win. “I don’t think we are really bothered by that. If you look at our group, we are rising to the occasion.”

Last season, the Golden Knights won the Cup without ever facing elimination or a Game 7. They’ve faced more adversity in this series alone than in all four a year ago. Still, with the veteran leadership and cup experience in the locker room, the moment won’t be too big for them.

“Everyone in this room has played in big games, so you just have to put your best foot forward,” captain Mark Stone said on Friday evening. “It’s a one-match elimination, right? We played on our toes (in Game 6) and we’re in the exact same spot we were.

On the Stars side, Seguin said he wasn’t even aware of his coach’s impeccable record in Game 7, saying this was a story for the media. He doesn’t expect many changes on either side ahead of the final showdown.

“When you’re this late in a series, there’s only so many adjustments you can make,” Seguin said. “The teams just know each other. It’s war every night. It was fun hockey.”

DeBoer agreed with that idea and said he doesn’t feel any added pressure to maintain his perfect record. Game 7s are busy enough.

“I don’t even think about it until you bring it up, honestly,” he said. “At this time of year the players take over. The players decide. We coach and make some adjustments and things like that, but the guys that are on the ice every shift, every minute, competing for space and time and to make the next play, that’s where the game is decided.

There’s nothing like the intensity of a Game 7. The nervous energy in the building. The importance of every shift and every bounce of the puck. On Sunday, one incredibly talented team’s season ends much earlier than expected, while the other team continues to make progress.

“It’s the consequences (that make it special),” Cassidy said. “It’s win or go home. I think everyone likes the challenge of that. These guys are very competitive on both sides. When you get this far, you’ve built mutual animosity on the one hand, but respect on the other, because, hey, you’re going toe-to-toe with good athletes.

“I think it’s just the competitive nature. I beat you, we win tonight, we move on. That is it.”

(Photo: Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images)