Phew. I have to admit it was nice to get Game 1 over with, officially in the books. For at least one night Stars fans get to put the "will they / won't they" concerns in a little box under the bed and go to sleep victorious. Make no mistake, this was a tricky game to win. The Stars carry the weight of last season's failures and this season's expectations. They're in that weird transition between a team with nothing to prove and a team with everything to play for.
There were times during the first period, when rubber was raining down on Devan Dubnyk, that a little part of me worried. What if the Wild sneak a goal on the counter attack? What if the Stars' penalty kill finally sags? What if they start second guessing? For a team without a lot of playoff experience, those feel like valid concerns.
And they might be, later, but for Game 1 the Stars buried their heads, buried their chances (eventually) and did was superior teams do. From where I sat, four major things stood out.
1 – Stephen Johns is going to be fine
On the surface, 14:05 is a modest night's work for a defenseman. That's fine. The Stars aren't built on the back of #28, not yet at any rate, but if we break that number down a little bit good things happen. Johns played 3:36 during the first period. That's very light usage. It jumped to 5:01 and 5:28 in the second and third respectively. That's not going to touch John Klingberg (9:10, 8:31, 8:29), but it puts him in Kris Russel territory (5:52, 5:57, 5:34). During that time Johns saw the Stars score twice and threw five hits.
Ignore his tangible contributions for a second. Every capable minute the Stars can give to Johns is a minute they don't have to heap on Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, or Johnny Oduya. In an early round series that can be critical. If (and the Stars still have a long way to go) the Stars survive to face Chicago or St. Louis in the second round, the fact that Klingberg isn't playing 11 or 12 minutes a period could be a factor. Now, add in the fact that Johns was productive in the minutes he did play, and you've got something.
2 – Scoring, and more importantly, offensive pressure from the depth lines
Dubnyk made 14 saves in the first period. It was an "oh crap, here we go again) sort of period. The Stars dominated, sure, but haven't we seen them chuck pucks to no result before? Rookie Radek Faksa didn't let that happen. His second period tally punctured the proverbial balloon. No, it didn't usher in a scoring bonanza, but it did serve as a sort of security blanket. It allowed the Stars to keep leaning forward, to keep applying pressure. There wasn't going to be a "hot goalie" situation.
Faksa was superb all night. Ales Hemsky had an assist and was busy with the puck, Mattias Janmark had a couple of nice looks, and Colton Sceviour gave the Stars 16 strong minutes I don't think they could have trusted him with last season. They were all excellent. If that trend continues, the Wild simply will not have the bodies to match up.
3 – The Big Guns on the scoresheet
All of which is not to say that the depth lines carried the day. Jason Spezza wins the prize for prettiest goal of the night. His fake-slide-shot was playground hockey stuff. I want to watch it on a loop, over and over. Also, he won 62% of his face-offs and picked up an assist. Jamie Benn, meanwhile, seemed to struggle a bit with the puck, so instead focused on pulping whatever poor sap happened to be in his way. Five hits, all of which were bowel-looseners, remind us that The Captain can influence games in a myriad of ways.
I'm sure the Stars would have liked to do better than 1/6 on the power play. I'm also sure that they would have liked more than 12:19 TOI from Cody Eakin or at least a shot on goal from Valeri Nichushkin. Things to fix, sure, but two goals from the top six is a perfectly serviceable number. Check the box and move on.
4 – Kari managed just fine, despite a difficult workload
For months, now, Kari Lehtonen has been hearing about how goaltending is the one thing that could hold Dallas back. Any "the Wild could win if..." scenario is predicated on the notion of a crease-collapse. I'm sure the Big Finn was eager to make a mark on the series, and to prove that he is capable of holding up his end of the bargain.
So of course he sees two... TWO shots in the first period. Then, relatively at least, the floodgates opened, and Kari had to turn aside 11 in the second, and nine in the final frame. That's not easy. Lehtonen basically warmed up, watched a period of hockey in a crouch, and had to be a difference maker during the final half of the game. It's one game, but from a confidence perspective it was a good one.
5 – And that Seguin guy could be back on Saturday
I'm just going to leave that there.