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Remember Game 3 of the Western Conference finals? And the questions that followed?

Were the Vegas Golden Knights really about to sweep the Dallas Stars? Or was it more likely the Golden Knights would close out the series at T-Mobile Arena in Game 5? What could the Stars do to avoid being swept? How could the Stars fare without Jamie Benn, and would Benn return at some point in the series? Or would next season be the earliest anyone would see the Stars captain take the ice?

But now, there’s a different set of questions.

Are the Golden Knights in serious trouble — or is this temporary? How did the Stars hand the Golden Knights back-to-back losses for the first time since late March? Can the Stars force a Game 7? And if they do, are the Stars really about to come back from a 3-0 series deficit to reach the Stanley Cup Final?

Clearly, there are questions about what could happen Monday in Game 6 at American Airlines Arena in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+). That said, we’ve put together a guide featuring what to watch from each team, along with some questions of note from Ryan S. Clark and an in-depth statistical analysis from ESPN Stats & Information.

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Monday, 8 p.m. ET | Watch live on ESPN+
Line: DAL -130 | O/U: 5.5

Clark’s keys

At this point in the series, is it more about what’s gone right for the Stars in the last two games, or more about what’s gone wrong for the Golden Knights?

For those who want to get philosophical about it, look at the last five games this way: Mistakes cost the Stars a chance to win Game 1 in overtime. If Wyatt Johnston scores in overtime before Chandler Stephenson‘s winner, then, the series would be split after two games. Game 3 was a four-goal blowout, whereas the Stars changed their fortunes by winning their first overtime game of the series — and the playoffs as a whole — in Game 4. Of course, Game 5 was tied at 2-2 before Ty Dellandrea‘s two third-period goals forced a Game 6.

But what else could one expect in a conference finals in which three of the five games have gone to overtime? What occurred in Game 5 appears to have offered more insight into how this series has changed for both teams.

One of the problems facing the Stars was the inability to generate high-danger scoring chances in the first three games. It’s why they finished with a total of 19 high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play before Game 4, per Natural Stat Trick. Since then, the Stars have accounted for 30 high-danger chances — 15 in each game — which has played a role in what has made them look even more formidable.

“I think we try to limit turnovers and I think that’s something in the whole series has been a key point to play very well and play in their zone,” Stars forward Jason Robertson said. “Avoid the neutral-zone turnovers and the ‘hope’ plays. I think for the majority of the game we did that very well — this game and last game. We gotta continue that in Game 6.”

To Robertson’s point, the Stars were charged with nine giveaways in Game 5. That was a bit of contrast compared to the Golden Knights, considering how much they struggled with their puck management. Through the first four games of the Western Conference finals, the Golden Knights were responsible for committing 33 giveaways. In Game 5 alone they had 24 giveaways, which is another reason why the Stars likely held a shot-share percentage of more than 60%.

“We had 24 giveaways. I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways — no disrespect to Arizona,” Golden Knights coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s not the right way to play. Twenty-four giveaways. We’re trying to go to the Stanley Cup Final against a desperate team. To me, that’s the whole game right there. That falls under urgency obviously, right? You’re not making the right decisions with the puck, you’re not supporting it well, so it starts right there.”

What does getting Jamie Benn back mean for the Stars?

Benn’s return from a two-game suspension after his Game 3 cross-check against Golden Knights captain Mark Stone gives Stars coach Pete DeBoer another top-nine option. Being without Benn was not the only adjustment DeBoer and his coaching staff had to account for over the last two games. They’ve also been without Evgenii Dadonov, who has been out of the lineup with a lower-body injury since the early stages of Game 3.

Adding Benn to the lineup can be viewed in a number of different ways. The Stars are adding a player who scored 33 regular-season goals, at what looks like a bit of a pivot point following Game 5. Benn has scored three playoff goals, but there’s a point to be made about how he scores those goals.

More than 50% of Benn’s regular-season shots, along with 60% of his goals, came from those high-danger areas such as the low slot and net front, according to IcyData. It’s possible that adding Benn and his ability to get those goals in those portions of the ice could prove beneficial, considering the Stars have found more success in consistently generating high-danger scoring chances over the last two games.

Now add what Benn could potentially provide to a team that just got three of its four goals in Game 5 from Luke Glendening and Dellandrea, while also factoring in what Robertson has done in scoring five of the Stars’ 12 goals in the conference finals.

“We have a lot of belief in this room that we can beat anyone on any given night,” Stars forward Max Domi said. “That being said, we’ve got to come ready to play. We do all the things we talk about, we execute the game plan to the best of our ability and we’ve been able to do that the last couple games.”

What does Vegas need to do in order to close out the series?

It could start with finding ways to firmly gain control. Even though the Stars owned possession in Game 5, it’s not the first time the Golden Knights have gone through that experience. All but one of their wins against the Edmonton Oilers in the second round ended with the Golden Knights having a short-share percentage of less than 50%. It reinforces the belief that the Golden Knights don’t necessarily need puck control to win games. Like Cassidy said, it could be a matter of limiting their turnovers in Game 6 compared to Game 5.

“We mismanaged another puck and we were out of it there,” Cassidy said. “Credit to them for how they created some of their offense tonight and caused some problems for us. At the end of the day, they scored goals in the third and we didn’t.”

Exactly how damaging were those turnovers? Look no further than a few of the Stars’ goals. Miro Heiskanen forced the turnover that eventually led to Dellandrea scoring his first goal. Dellandrea’s second goal was a byproduct of a turnover. Zach Whitecloud tried playing the puck off the boards behind the net, only to have Domi gather the puck and throw it on goal. That led to a loose puck at the net front that Dellandrea lifted over Adin Hill for a 4-2 lead.

Let’s say the Golden Knights are able to limit turnovers and reduce the number of high-danger chances they’ve allowed. That still leaves them with the task of trying to find success against Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger in an elimination game. In the first round last year against the Calgary Flames, Oettinger showed what he’s capable of achieving with his team’s proverbial back to the wall. That continues to hold true this postseason, with Oettinger accruing a .948 save percentage in five career elimination games, which also includes what he did in Games 4 and 5 when he had a combined .940 save percentage to keep the Stars’ season alive.

“There’s no doubt in here,” Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez said. “There’s frustration, obviously. You want to close out a series. But, again, the Dallas Stars are a really good hockey team. This is that time of year that they’re playing really well and like I said before, we’ve got to match their urgency and desperation.”

What does Dallas need to do to force a Game 7?

Everything the Stars did in Games 4 and 5 provided a blueprint. Force the Golden Knights into committing the sort of turnovers that can be parlayed into high-danger chances. Continue to tap into the additional scoring options beyond Robertson. Plus, find a balance that allows Oettinger to harness his elimination game success while offering him support in the defensive zone.

Yet there could be one more item the Stars may add to that plan: Getting on the power play.

Several factors have contributed to how the Stars reached the Western Conference finals, and executing one of the NHL’s strongest power plays is one of them. They finished the regular season fifth in the league, converting 25.0% of their chances, and have pushed that number to 32.0% in the postseason; that’s good for fifth in the playoffs overall, and tops among the three teams that are still alive.

Despite scoring four goals, the Stars never went on the power play in Game 5. But if they can go on the extra-skater advantage in Game 6, it could give them another dimension toward pushing the series to Game 7 — especially when the Golden Knights’ penalty kill has a 61.4% success rate that ranks 15th among the 16 playoff teams. But that rate comes with the caveat the Golden Knights have faced three of the top five power-play units in the postseason in the Winnipeg Jets, Oilers and Stars.

“It just shows you how fast things can change,” Oettinger said. “We were down 3-0 yesterday, it seems like. Now, it’s 3-2 and we’re going home.”

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Ty Dellandrea notches 2 clutch goals for the Stars in the 3rd period

Ty Dellandrea gathers two goals in the third period as the Stars lead 4-2 vs. the Golden Knights in Game 5.


Notes from ESPN Stats & Information

Golden Knights

  • Vegas has scored 44 goals at 5-on-5, seven more than any other team this postseason (the Stars are second, with 37). The next 5-on-5 goal by the Golden Knights will pass the 2021 team for the most in a single postseason in franchise history.

  • The Golden Knights have outscored the Stars 6-4 in the first period this series, but Vegas still has the worst first-period goal differential in the playoffs at minus-4. This comes after they had the second-best first-period goal differential in the regular season, at plus-30 behind only the Boston Bruins at plus-31.

  • While the Golden Knights have nine different goal scorers in the series, Jack Eichel is not among them. While he doesn’t have a goal, he has tallied four assists, all at even strength. Eichel does have the most shots on goal of any Golden Knights player in this series (17) and his 13 scoring chances created (eight scoring chance shot attempts plus five scoring chance assists) are tied with Jason Robertson for the most of any player in this series.

  • Eichel needs two points to become the third player in Golden Knights history to score 20 in a single postseason. The others were Reilly Smith, with 22 in 2018, and Jonathan Marchessault, with 21 in 2018.

  • William Karlsson, Marchessault and Chandler Stephenson each have eight goals this postseason, which are tied for the Golden Knights single postseason record with Marchessault in 2018 and Alex Tuch in 2020.

  • Goalie Adin Hill has played eight games this postseason on one day of rest between games, and has posted a save percentage of .933 in those games. During the entire regular season, Hill played five games with one day of rest, and posted a save percentage of .907 in those games.


Stars

  • The Stars have won each of their last three home games when facing elimination over the last two postseasons (won 3-2 in Game 4 of this series, won 2-1 in Game 7 of second round vs. the Seattle Kraken & 4-2 in Game 6 of 2022 first-round series against the Calgary Flames).

  • Dallas scored four goals at 5-on-5 in Game 5, which tied its single-game high this postseason with Games 1 and 5 of the second round. The Stars had scored a total of four goals at 5-on-5 in the previous four games of the series.

  • Robertson has scored five goals this series, which is only one fewer than the rest of Stars forwards have scored in this series (Ty Dellandrea’s two goals in Game 5 are the only other Dallas forward with more than one goal in this series). Outside of his 11-shot performance in Game 4, Robertson has a total of eight shots in the other four games.

  • Robertson’s next goal will give him the most in a semifinals/conference finals series in Dallas/Minnesota North Stars franchise history. He is currently tied with Bill Goldsworthy in the 1968 semifinals, Jamie Langenbrunner in the 1999 conference finals and Brett Hull in the 2000 conference finals.

  • Jamie Benn’s return makes for a tough lineup decision for Dallas. The fourth line of Fredrik OlofssonRadek FaksaLuke Glendening combined for a goal (Glendening’s 1-1 goal) and 10 shot attempts in Game 5. According to Stathletes, the Stars generated 1.07 expected goals at 5-on-5 when they were on the ice together in Game 5, the highest of any Stars forward unit.

  • Stars goalie Jake Oettinger is 4-1 with a .949 save percentage in his five career starts when facing elimination, in a virtual tie for the second-highest save percentage all-time when facing playoff elimination among goalies with at least five such starts. The only time Oettinger has allowed more than two goals in his five previous starts when facing elimination was when he gave up three on 67 shots in Game 7 of the 2022 first round against the Flames.

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

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Mays, Negro League tributes abound at Rickwood

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — As Ajay Stone strolled around historic Rickwood Field and gazed at tributes displayed in honor of Willie Mays and other Negro Leaguers, he clutched a cherished memory under his arm.

It was a picture from 2004 of Mays holding Stone’s then-10-month-old daughter, Haley, who was wearing San Francisco Giants gear. In Mays’ hand was a chunk of a chocolate chip cookie, which he was handing over for Haley to eat.

“Willie gave her that cookie,” Stone remembered. “She had no teeth. But we took the cookie and we kept it in her stroller for a year and a half. The great Willie Mays gave it to her, so it was special to us.”

Stone and his wife, Christina, traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina, to be in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday for a moment they deemed just as special.

It was hours before Rickwood Field hosted its first Major League Baseball game, with the St. Louis Cardinals beating the Giants, 6-5. The game, which MLB called “A Tribute to the Negro Leagues,” was meant to honor the legacies of Mays and other Black baseball greats who left an enduring mark on the sport.

MLB planned a week of activities around Mays and the Negro Leagues, including an unveiling ceremony Wednesday of a Willie Mays mural in downtown Birmingham. Those tributes took on a more significant meaning Tuesday afternoon when Mays died at 93. As news of his death spread throughout Birmingham, celebrations of his life ramped up.

You could hear the celebration at Rickwood Field on Thursday even before arriving: the rapid thumping of a drum echoing from inside the ballpark, excited murmurs from fans skipping toward the music and frequent bursts of laughter.

Inside, there were reminders of history all around.

There were photos and artifacts of baseball Hall of Famers who played at the 114-year-old ballpark, including Jackie Robinson, Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige. The original clubhouse of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, where Mays got his pro start in 1948, was open. A memorial of Mays was at the front, with bobbleheads, a signed glove and his Black Barons and San Francisco Giants jerseys on display.

Outside, fans stood in line to hold a baseball bat used by Mays in 1959. They took photos sitting inside an original bus from 1947 that was typically used during barnstorming tours by Negro Leagues teams. They danced to live music and ate food from concession stands featuring menu boards designed to reflect the look and feel of the 1940s.

Eddie Torres and his son Junior wore matching Giants jerseys as they took pictures inside the ballpark. They’re lifelong Giants fans who came from California for the game.

“I never even got to see Willie Mays play, but as a Giants fan, you knew what he meant to the game of baseball,” Torres said. “My son, he’s only 11. Willie Mays had such an effect on the game that even he knew who Willie Mays was.”

Musical artist Jon Batiste strummed a guitar while dancing on a wooden stage near home plate just before the first pitch. Fans stood as former Negro Leaguers were helped to the field for a pregame ceremony.

Shouts of “Willie! Willie!” broke out after a brief moment of silence.

For Michael Jackson, sitting in the stands at Rickwood Field reminded him of the past.

The 71-year-old Jackson played baseball in the 1970s and ’80s with the East Thomas Eagles of the Birmingham Industrial League, which was a semi-professional league made up of iron and steel workers that was an integral form of entertainment in Birmingham in the 20th century.

Jackson’s baseball journey took him to Rickwood Field many times. After all these years, he was just excited that it’s still standing.

“It’s nice seeing them redo all of this,” he said, “instead of tearing it down. We played in the same ballpark they named after Willie Mays out in Fairfield [Alabama]. And then I had my times out here playing at this ballpark. It’s all very exciting.”

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Orioles’ ‘incredible’ hitting drives rout of Yankees

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Orioles' 'incredible' hitting drives rout of Yankees

Cedric Mullins hit a two-run homer to spark a six-run second inning, Gunnar Henderson reached base four times, and the Baltimore Orioles knocked out rookie pitcher Luis Gil early in a 17-5 rout of the New York Yankees on Thursday.

On a 90-degree day, the Orioles improved to 5-2 against the Yankees and have now gone unbeaten in 22 straight series against American League East opponents, a major league record. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Orioles surpassed the mark set by the Atlanta Braves (1998-2000) and Cincinnati Reds (1975, 1969-1970).

The 17 runs also marked rare success for the Orioles against the Yankees. It was their second most in a road game against New York and tied for the third most overall, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They scored 18 in a nine-win run in the Bronx in June 1986.

“Really proud of how our guys went in this series. The way we came out and swung the bats today, that was incredible,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “So many hard-hit balls there early, just really, really good at-bats.”

Baltimore also improved to 19-7 against the AL East this season and 51-27 since the start of last season.

“I don’t know what kind of statement we’re making,” Hyde said. “I know teams think we’re a good team, and our record shows it and the way we’ve been playing against our division and how we’ve been playing baseball in the last couple of years.”

Henderson doubled twice among his three hits to extend the majors’ longest active on-base streak to 27 games and his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games. He also added an RBI groundout in the sixth.

Ryan Mountcastle had a bases-clearing double and an RBI single in the ninth off New York catcher Jose Trevino. Anthony Santander hit a three-run homer for his MLB-best 10th home run this month as the Orioles moved to within a half-game of first-place New York.

Ryan O’Hearn added an RBI double and drove in four runs, while Austin Hays hit a two-run homer in the seventh as the Orioles collected 19 hits and scored their most runs since an 18-5 win at Cleveland on June 6, 2021.

“I’m really proud of our guys not buying into too much that comes from outside noise and things like that,” O’Hearn said.

Gleyber Torres hit a solo home run before exiting with a groin injury and Aaron Judge hit his major league-leading 27th homer by lining a two-run shot in the third off Baltimore starter Cole Irvin. Judge also had an RBI single in his return from a one-game absence after getting hit on the left hand in New York’s 4-2 win Tuesday.

But the Yankees lost back-to-back series for the first time this season.

“They’re about as formidable as there is, and the first couple of series, they’ve had their way with us,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They’ve had the upper hand.”

Irvin allowed five runs and five hits in 4⅔ innings. Bryan Baker (1-0) relieved him and was credited with the win.

Gil allowed seven runs and eight hits in a career-low 1⅓ innings.

“They got after him today and didn’t miss some heaters in the center of the plate,” Boone said. “That’s been uncommon.”

Henderson opened the game with a double over right fielder Juan Soto‘s head and scored on O’Hearn’s two-strike single. Mullins blasted a slider into the right field seats for a 3-0 lead, and Mountcastle chopped a double past third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera down the left field line to make it 6-0.

After Torres and Judge connected, Santander went deep in the fifth off Tim Hill, who signed with the Yankees before the game.

Gil’s short outing ended New York’s streak of 76 straight starts of at least four innings to start the season. It was the seventh-longest streak in baseball and the longest in the American League since the Chicago White Sox did it in the first 89 games of 2006.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Orioles: OF Colton Cowser did not start after being plunked on the elbow pad Wednesday. … 3B Jordan Westburg went 2-for-5 after sitting out Wednesday because of left hip discomfort.

Yankees: OF Jasson Domínguez will miss at least eight weeks with a strained left oblique. He was injured on a check swing during a game for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre on Saturday.

UP NEXT

Orioles: Grayson Rodriguez (8-2, 3.20 ERA) opposes RHP Jake Bloss in the opener of a three-game series at Houston.

Yankees: LHP Carlos Rodón (9-3, 3.28) faces Atlanta LHP Chris Sale (9-2, 2.98) in the opener of a three-game interleague series Friday in the Bronx.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

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Judge returns with HR, Torres exits in Yanks loss

Aaron Judge returned to the New York Yankees‘ lineup Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles and hit his major-league-leading 27th home run of the season.

Judge, playing two days after being hit on the left hand by a pitch, hit a 395-foot two-run homer to right center in the third inning off Orioles starter Cole Irvin. Judge added an RBI single in the fifth, but the Yankees were blown out 17-5 to drop the three-game series and see their lead over the Orioles in the American League East sliced to a half-game.

Judge started in center field and played seven innings before being lifted.

“It felt good,” Judge said. “There’s still some swelling, some soreness and stuff like that, especially on foul balls, but if you square it up, it feels pretty good.”

The Yankees also had second baseman Gleyber Torres exit in the fifth inning because of tightness in his right groin.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he didn’t believe Torres suffered “anything major.”

“It just started to tighten up on him, and I think just being cautious with it, kind of getting him out of there,” Boone said.

Torres committed his major-league-leading 11th error when he failed to field a grounder by Jordan Westburg in the top of the fifth. Ben Rice was on deck when his spot in the lineup came up in the bottom half. Oswaldo Cabrera moved over from third base to replace Torres, DJ LeMahieu shifted from first to third and Rice entered the game at first base.

A free agent at the end of the season, Torres has struggled this year. He hit his seventh homer in the second inning and is batting .221 with 28 RBIs.

Judge sat out Wednesday as the Yankees lost 7-6 in 10 innings.

He was struck by a 94.1 mph fastball from Baltimore starter Albert Suarez during New York’s 4-2 win Tuesday night. The slugger left the game an inning later. X-rays and a CT scan were negative, though Boone had said Judge had some swelling and discomfort.

“Playing a division rival, a must-win game to try to clinch the series,” Judge said. “So we got to be out there.”

Judge is batting .306 and also leads the majors with 67 RBIs. The 32-year-old outfielder is a five-time All-Star and was the 2022 AL MVP after hitting 62 home runs to break the AL record of 61 by Roger Maris set in 1961.

In 2018, Judge missed 45 games with a broken right wrist after he was hit by a 93.4 mph pitch from Kansas City‘s Jakob Junis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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