Since the beginning of the season, this Dallas Stars team has been the group that was built for the playoffs. Well, playoffs are here, and that group finds itself in a 2-1 deficit to the Calgary Flames going into a pivotal Game 4.
Joe Pavelski has delivered to a large degree over the last few games. He has centered a second line that has been dominant in shot share, and he’s managed to hit the scoresheet at opportune times.
Likewise, Corey Perry has been noticeable. His perfect pass to Jamie Oleksiak brought the team back from the edge of the cliff at the end of Game 2. He’s also found the scoresheet, although he has been on the right wing of a line for the Stars that has yet to find its role with the team.
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, reunited with Alexander Radulov, were dominant in Game 3, and when tasked with playing heads-up with the Flames’ third line — the one line that has driven play for Calgary — they have matched their physicality and shown their skill.
Defensively, the top two pairs for Dallas have been playing well and putting up significant minutes. In Game 3, Andrej Sekera and Taylor Fedun were relegated to picking up shifts with John Klingberg and Esa Lindell respectively.
This strategy worked, with these matchups driving play while they were on the ice, but over the course of a long series there need to be concerns with the number of minutes being logged by the top four defenders. With the team playing defense first, having no trust in your bottom pair is not sustainable. The team will ride their top four into the ground without one or two bottom-pair defenders logging dependable minutes in at least the range of 15 minutes per game. Stephen Johns is there, but until he is available (and until the Stars find somebody that they trust on his left), the current setup is problematic.
Anton Khudobin, and to a lesser extent, Ben Bishop have been serviceable in net. For a team that depends on their day-to-day excellence, improvement with goaltending could be the difference between moving on to the next round and heading back to Texas.
After a slow start in Game 1, the Stars have proven that they ready for a push. In Game 3, Cam Talbot and the posts kept the puck out of the net, but more often than not, if Dallas plays the way they did on Friday night, they’ll win most of those games.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Roope Hintz (24) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Mattias Janmark (13) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Tyler Seguin (91) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Ben Bishop (30)
Calgary Flames Lineup
Johnny Gaudreau (13) - Sean Monahan (23) - Elias Lindholm (28)
Tobias Rieder (16) - Mikael Backlund (11) - Andrew Mangiapane (88)
Milan Lucic (17) - Sam Bennett (93) - Dillon Dube (29)
Zac Rinaldo (36) - Derek Ryan (10) - Alan Quine (89)
Mark Giordano (5) - T J Brodie (7)
Noah Hanifin (55) - Rasmus Andersson (4)
Derek Forbort (20) - Erik Gustafsson (56)
Cam Talbot (39)
Keys to the Game
FCC Line. The Faksa line had their first bad game of the postseason in Game 3. A dominant performance against the Flames top line relieves pressure on the rest of the lineup, where the Stars have depth and skill advantages.
Goaltending. Dallas has yet to see a dominant performance in net. Stars hockey relies on superior goaltenders, and in a big Game 4, now is the time to see it.
Roope Hintz. Playing with Dickinson and Perry, Hintz has not found his niche. In last year’s playoffs, the Finn was the unknown difference maker. In this series, he is the forgotten man — but he’s dangerous, and due.