The Dallas Stars face the Philadelphia Flyers tonight with the distinct possibility of finishing the night with a playoff spot firmly in hand. A 3-0-1 swing through western Canada, which included a dominating performance in Winnipeg and several gutsy comebacks allowed the Stars to distance themselves from the pack, setting up what could be a celebratory fan appreciation night at American Airlines Center.
The breathing room that Dallas has earned gives them an opportunity to fine-tune their lineup before the push for the Stanley Cup becomes earnest. Working Tyler Pitlick back into a standard slot, while allowing him to get back into game shape began in Vancouver. Reports also have Ben Bishop, Brett Ritchie, and even Mats Zuccarello working their way back in time for at least one of the final two games.
It’s entirely possible that the Stars could hit the ice for Game One of the playoffs fully rested, and more importantly, fully healthy. The season has had its bumps and some self-inflicted wounds, but Dallas has some momentum and there are multiple sources out there who consider the Stars a dark horse to make some waves once the postseason begins.
The Flyers kept most of their team together at the trade deadline. The exception was a trade with Nashville, which sent Wayne Simmonds to the Predators in exchange for Ryan Hartman. Not a showstopper of a deal, but Hartman has decent numbers at right wing and he’s still only 24 years old.
Sean Couturier continues to shine as a center on the first line, and with Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton anchoring the second and third lines, the Flyers have a strong, young center core for the next several years.
Defensively, the Flyers are extremely young both at the blue line and in net. In many ways, Philadelphia’s defensive group looks like the Stars from a few years ago. The pedigree is good, and with a bit more experience, they could gel into a solid unit.
In net, the Flyers have turned the bulk of the duties over to 20-year-old Carter Hart, who has rewarded them with a solid .919 save percentage, while giving up 2.77 goals per game through 29 games.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Mattias Janmark - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Jason Dickinson
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin - Jason Spezza - Tyler Pitlick
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Philadelphia Flyers Lineup
Travis Konecny - Sean Couturier - Claude Giroux
Oskar Lindblom - Nolan Patrick - Jakub Voracek
James Van Riemsdyk - Scott Laughton - Ryan Hartman
Michael Raffl - Corban Knight - Phil Varone
Travis Sanheim - Philippe Myers
Shayne Gostisbehere - Ivan Provorov
Robert Hagg - Radko Gudas
Keys to the Game
- The Stars haven’t played since Saturday, and this is the first game back after a four-game western Canada swing. Slow starts are not unheard of in these situations, especially for a Stars team with a propensity for slow starts. Dallas needs to survive the first 10 minutes unscathed.
- Taking that last step into the playoffs can be the toughest. Don’t force the action, creating artificial pressure. Work into the game and let the process take over.
- Special teams. Dallas has put up points on the power play, but much of that has been individual effort. Philadelphia’s special teams are below average, which should give the Stars an opportunity to get the power play focused back on team efficiency.
Did you know?
Of players on the current roster, Jamie Benn has played the most playoff games in a Dallas Stars sweater at 19 appearances. Second on that list with 16? Valeri Nichushkin.