Everything aligned properly for the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night at American Airlines Center. On the power play, the Nashville Predators were chasing and when the Stars were shooting, they were finding the net. Corners were hit, rebounds found sticks. For Stars fans, it was a rare opportunity to kick back and relax.
The series has now turned into a best-of-three contest, so there is no time to rest on laurels while enjoying the latest win. The Stars seem to have answered some questions that were raised early on in the series. The top two lines have been dangerous, and the power play is back to being a dynamic force.
The questions for Game 5 are questions to be asked of the Predators. If the series dynamic stays the way that it is, advantage Dallas. The Stars should expect something different, and how quickly and how well they react to Nashville’s adjustments will go a long way to determining which team comes out of this series on top.
What has worked for Nashville?
- Defenders activating from the point.
- Speed, especially at the bottom of the lineup with Rocco Grimaldi.
- Pekka Rinne standing on his head.
What has not worked for Nashville?
- Pushing the Stars over the physical line.
- The Johansen-Forsberg-Arvidsson first line.
- The Kyle Turris second line.
There are a few other places to look. The power play has been atrocious, but that is more of a feature than it is a bug, at least with this team. The Nick Bonino checking line came into the series with shot-share issues, somewhat similar to Dallas and the Radek Faksa line. During the first four games, neither checking line has been bad, especially considering the quality of competition.
What could change?
It’s difficult to change a team’s identity in the playoffs. That could mean that the Predators double down on their physical play. If penalties are not called, that could be to Nashville’s advantage, but given the power play disparity between the two teams, it’s a risky strategy.
Another area that Nashville could push would be to stretch the game, especially using long passes to forwards cheating at the point. Fast teams have used this strategy successfully throughout the regular season against the Stars. The questions are whether Nashville has the breakaway speed within the forward group to make this work and whether their defense can hit tape with stretch passes.
Predators head coach Peter Laviolette did try a little line ruffling during Game 4, and some of that may stick. Specifically, Mikael Granlund jumped around the lineup quite a bit, and Calle Jarnkrok picked up Filip Forsberg for multiple shifts. On the surface, a few minor line shuffles doesn’t sound that impressive, but sometimes in hockey, a coach is just looking for a little spark.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Justin Dowling - Jason Spezza - Tyler Pitlick
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak - Ben Lovejoy
Nashville Predators Lineup
Filip Forsberg - Ryan Johansen - Viktor Arvidsson
Mikael Granlund - Kyle Turris - Craig Smith
Colton Sissons - Nick Bonino - Austin Watson
Miikka Salomaki - Calle Jarnkrok - Rocco Grimaldi
Roman Josi - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Dante Fabbro
- Mattias Janmark skated with the team on Friday, and should be available.
- Jamie Oleksiak has slotted in well on the third pair. He’s not a big goon, and as long as he’s allowed to be a puck-moving defenseman, he’s a solid option.
- Oleksiak plays smaller than his size, Mats Zuccarello plays bigger.