The Dallas Stars are going to the 2015-16 playoffs. This is all but mathematical fact. And yet some questions remain the same as they were at the beginning of the season: namely, which half of their much-scrutinized goalie tandem will get the nod to start the first series?
It's an interesting test case about the limits of both #fancystats and the eyeball test, and no one knows that better than the Stars themselves:
For much of the season, Antti Niemi has had the upper hand statistically and looked like the potential starter in the first game of the playoffs based on his experience. Niemi won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 and is 35-26 in 62 playoff appearances. Kari Lehtonen is 2-6 in the playoffs over a 10-year career.
But as the Stars head down the final stretch, Lehtonen is playing well and Niemi is in one of the worst slumps of his career. After allowing five goals on 36 shots Saturday in a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis, Niemi is 1-2-2 in his last six appearances with a 4.69 goals-against average and an .857 save percentage.
And while it's well-nigh impossible to look at the Stars' netminding numbers and not wonder how either goalie will perform in the playoffs, Ruff reminds that the team (as of this writing) is still first in the Central Division and the Western Conference because of victories held down by this very tandem:
"Last year, we couldn't get a win out of our backup goalie and we overplayed our No. 1 goalie, and that didn't work at all," Ruff said of the reason for signing Niemi in the summer to create a goalie tandem. "So I think overall, it's been a win-win for us. I know our overall numbers aren't as good as some of the other goalies in the league, but I look at the number of wins and say that the goalies have been successful."
There's more at Heika's place. [SportsDayDFW]
Earlier last week, Heika said in his weekly chat that there are "six or seven" Cedar Park prospects who might see "significant NHL minutes" next season. [SportsDayDFW]
And don't forget, Mike does this every Monday. Visit The Dallas Morning News' Stars site and ask your questions by 2 p.m. CT. [SportsDayDFW]
Want to meet Tyler Seguin? Of course you do. Stop by the Rally House at 13710 Dallas Parkway this evening to catch the Donut Man in person.
Meanwhile, Rick Gosselin shares his thoughts on the NHL's playoff structure, as well as the best and worst teams the Stars could meet in the first round. [SportsDayDFW]
And Mark Stepneski takes a look at Jason Spezza 's hot streak and Kris Russell 's first games with the Stars. [Stars Inside Edge]
Can the Stars gamble their way to a Stanley Cup? Jordan Dix examines the case for going all in. [The Hockey Writers]
There was nary a peep from Murderers' Row on Sunday, but that will change tonight. Here's your Central Division action:
- Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings, 7 p.m. Central time (Note to L.A.: You have one job. Don't blow it.)
- St. Louis Blues at Calgary Flames, 8 p.m. Central time (Note to Calgary: Same to you.)
- Nashville Predators at Edmonton Oilers, 8 p.m. Central time
- Winnipeg Jets vs. Vancouver Canucks, 9 p.m. Central time
And with the Wings fighting for a wild-card spot, it's a terrible time to lose Niklas Kronwall, who will be out 1-3 weeks with a knee sprain. [The Hockey News]
Dalton Prout is back in the news, and possibly facing supplemental discipline, after he sucker-punched Nikita Kucherov during the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. [Puck Daddy]
You've probably heard of Doug Gilmour. He's written the latest "Letter to My Younger Self" at The Players' Tribune, and you want to read it.
If you hate the coach's challenge, you may want to follow the action at this week's NHL general managers' meeting in Boca Raton, which begins today. The GMs will discuss that, the size of goalie equipment, NHL Draft lottery mechanics and more. [NHL]
The Calgary Inferno upset the Montreal Canadiennes to win their first-ever Clarkson Cup in the CWHL championships.
Meanwhile, the NWHL dropped hints about an expansion into Canada after the inaugural Isobel Cup, which could intensify the league's rivalry with its Canadian analog. [Puck Daddy]
The Texas Stars rallied to win the second half of their back-to-back with the Stockton Heat.
The Ginger Ninja is the subject of this week's Bud Light Frozen Moment.
Finally: Hockey mom, rec-league player and artist Liz Pead has an interesting avocation – she turns old hockey equipment into three-dimensional art. Take a look, and enjoy.