The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, Dallas.
The Dallas Stars, a season after missing the playoffs, enter play this evening as a heavy favorite after capturing the top seed in their division and the conference. The machinations of Jim Nill in the form of two goaltenders that contributed equally to 50 wins and a re-imagined defense corps have paid off.
It's time to take the next step. In their way, however, are the Minnesota Wild. Who took them to overtime three times this season.
While the Stars wished and regretted last spring, the Wild were in this exact position. And they flourished.
Last season it was against the top point-getter in the West in the St. Louis Blues, and the wildcard Wild took them down in six games- Their goals against average in the four wins a sterling 1.00, led by current workhorse goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
It's been-there-done-that for a Minnesota team that got told they couldn't do it last season and did it anyway, then were told they couldn't win when their head coach was fired this season and persevered a grabbed a spot anyway in the best division in hockey.
Interim head-coach John Torchetti piloted the Wild to a 15-11-1 mark down the stretch in his maiden voyage as an NHL bench-boss.
He'll make his Stanley Cup Playoff coaching debut without Zach Parise, Tomas Vanek, and upcoming star-killer Erik Haula, as you've no-doubt heard by now. On the flip side Tyler Seguin's status is officially in question as he tries to battle back from a partially torn Achilles tendon suffered in March.
That news all week long has generated intense favor for the Stars, but one need only look back on the Nashville Predators jumping all over the Stars in game 82 without Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne to the tune of an early 2-0 lead to know how energized a team can be without some of its best players.
Injuries or not, the Wild have four playoff appearances in their last four seasons, with some wins, and the Stars have been just once in their last seven campaigns- A six-game heart-breaker at the hands of the Ducks in 2014.
Stars captain Jamie Benn has experienced just two playoff wins in his career, and he's joined in relative playoff inexperience by Cody Eakin, Radek Faksa, Mattian Janmark, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Colton Sceviour, Jordie Benn, Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, and even Karie Lehtonen to some extent.
For many of those this evening it will be their playoff-debut with the eyes of two nations upon them.
They've a tough act to follow as the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues showcased what playoff hockey is all about last night in a 0-0 tie through 60 minutes and a ugly, lucky bounce for a game winner.
Defense and one-goal games generally carry the day- It will be interesting to see how the Stars' free-flowing style at both ends of the ice translates.
The Stars were the highest-event 5-on-5 team this season and it wasn't close. Corsi for per 60 minutes of 61.55 combined with 55.54 against made them an exciting team to watch, but you wonder how that translates to a game with a team that's likely to stay patient and wait for frustration before counter-attacking at an opportune moment.
5-on-5 the Stars were involved in more goal scoring (for and against) than any other team in the NHL this season outside the Calgary Flames- Can they play ugly hockey and get the goaltending they need, or will they find the confidence and direction to dictate their style?
Answers await this evening. Answers like- Who will be in the Dallas net? There have been no indications and there won't be until morning skate- Perhaps.
Officially Ruff told media Tyler Seguin would be good to go for game 2 for sure. Mattias Janmark will be a game-time decision. Lines at practice Wednesday were reported to be these-
So it seems Stephen Johns has earned a big shot here to show that he can handle this pressure. There are plenty of willing bodies healthy and able behind him if not as the Stars carry nine on the back end.
The Fak 'em line looks like the only sure bet at this point. Line blending has gotten them this far. What's a little more in a year as wonderful as this?
Wear your green. Not that awful Minnesota green. Victory green. And we'll see you here for the gameday thread tonight with nausea covered ice cream headaches. Happy playoffS, and enjoy it. This doesn't come around very often, as the fanbase has discovered.
Wild line combinations, or something approximate: