The Stars proved with their 3-2 victory over the Central Division Champions that they could absorb a thunderous body blow and stay on their feet. They proved to themselves, to the fanbase, and to anyone else watching that this Dallas Stars team is different and dangerous. That this is a Stars team worth watching as they have quickly stolen home ice advantage from the Predators and now sit in the drivers seat going into Game 2.
To put it mildly, the Stars are in a very good spot with their 1-0 lead in the series, and here are a couple of reasons why as we all count down to Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
Their System Works
Much has been made of the Stars’ transformation from their mediocre first half of the season to a rock solid second half. Rookie head coach Jim Montgomery famously took the ten day break to dive deep into what ailed the Stars, and he came out with a solution that likely saved their season. From the foundation to the shingles, this Stars team is built on defense and goaltending, with some timely offense built in. Their system is a simple one: limit high danger chances, keep pucks and people to the outside of the rink, and compete through the neutral zone with strong backchecking.
All of these elements make the Stars extremely hard to play against when the club is clicking on all cylinders. The Stars also have some speed throughout their lineup, which makes their backcheck seem relentless. Couple that with the goaltending they receive on a nightly basis, and the Stars have an identity and a road map on how to win a hockey game.
In Game 1, the Stars deployed their style to perfection, suffocating the Predators forwards, layering their in-zone structure, and finding timely saves from Ben Bishop. If the Stars can play within their structure, they have already seen that it works when the lights are the brightest.
The Club Will Settle Into the Grind of the Playoffs
On paper, the Nashville Predators have the edge in the experience department. The Preds have simply done it all: Stanley Cup Finals, Game 7s, etc... This is a tested and talented group that will not just go away. Luckily for the Stars, Game 1 gave them some playoff experience of their own.
The Stars absorbed the early knockout punch from the Predators, escaping the first period down just 1-0. They can thank 2015 Stanley Cup Finalist Ben Bishop for that one. However, the Stars were the better club for the remainder of the game. After they shook off a rough period, the Stars began to settle in.
If the final two periods of Game 1 are any indication, this Stars team will continue to settle in as this series goes along. Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz proved that this moment is not too big for them, and along with the veterans on the roster, the Stars should become more comfortable as the games come.
Home Ice Advantage
Going into the series, the Stars were certainly looking at how they could possibly steal a game and split the first two in the series in Nashville before going back to the friendly confines of home ice in Dallas for Games 3 and 4.
The Game 1 win in Nashville means the Stars have stolen home ice advantage from the Predators, with two of the next three games coming in Dallas. The win also means that the Predators are going to have chase and that the Stars can simply play their game knowing that they now hold the advantage once the series returns to Dallas.
For a young and inexperienced group in the Stars, the Game 1 win can settle this club down and allow the team to really ground itself. I don’t really like the phrase, “playing with house money,” because this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the dealer can rob you blind before you even realize it. However, the Stars are up on the Preds and the momentum has assuredly swung in the Stars’ favor.
If they can find a way to weather the fury of the Predators’ attack again in the first period of Game 2 tomorrow, the Stars have the confidence in their system and the proof that their structure works to win them another game.
And that may be the biggest momentum swing of all.