For the second consecutive year, the Dallas Stars have advanced beyond the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Having Matthew Tkachuk out of the lineup for most of the series with the Calgary Flames certainly helped. So did some minor adjustments that the Stars made to the forward matchups.
A line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov didn’t show up much on the scoresheet, but the reunion of the Big 3 certainly coincided with the team’s improved fortunes. Specifically, the trio was called on to go heads up against the Flames’ third line - the only line that was driving play. And they neutralized the threat.
This move allowed Radek Faksa and the FCC line do what they do: lock down Calgary’s top line. As a result, Joe Pavelski’s line could go heads up with the Flames’ weakened second line, a matchup that they dominated.
The Stars had the flexibility to make some changes, and when the Flames couldn’t counter, the series tilted Dallas’ way.
The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the best teams in the NHL all season. They obliterated the Arizona Coyotes in their first round series. They’re good - but was that first round reflective of a unit hitting on all cylinders or a group going up against a team with significant flaws?
10 minutes into tracking the COL/ARI series and this is gonna give CHI/VGK a run for its money on the lopsided scale.— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) August 21, 2020
Arizona never figured out how to handle Colorado’s top line, let alone their second line. Each head-to-head matchup favored the Avalanche, and the lone Coyote win was due to Darcy Kuemper standing on his head in net.
The Stars won all four contests against the Avalanche during the regular season, and in doing so, they were able to keep the score low and manageable. The Faksa line has traditionally had success against the Nathan MacKinnon line, and even a matchup against the Stars’ top line has proven to be lower-event hockey than might be expected.
With limited time to prepare for the game, none of it on the ice, the series presents a contrast of styles. Pick your poison - offense or defense. Round one proved that neither team can be pigeonholed as one dimensional, but come puck drop on Saturday night, each team will roll with their strength, looking for the other to break.
Game 1 should be adrenaline and instinct. Then expect an epic battle between old division rivals, both having major Stanley Cup aspirations.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jamie Benn (14) - Tyler Seguin (91) - Alexander Radulov (47)
Joel Kiviranta (25) - Joe Pavelski (16) - Denis Gurianov (34)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Radek Faksa (12) - Blake Comeau (15)
Roope Hintz (24) - Jason Dickinson (18) - Corey Perry (10)
Esa Lindell (23) - John Klingberg (3)
Jamie Oleksiak (2) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Andrej Sekera (5) - Taylor Fedun (42)
Anton Khudobin (35)
Colorado Avalanche Lineup
Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Andre Burakovsky (95) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Joonas Donskoi (72)
Tyson Jost (17) - J T Compher (37) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Matt Calvert (11) - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) - Matt Nieto (83)
Ryan Graves (27) - Cale Makar (8)
Samuel Girard (49) - Ian Cole (28)
Nikita Zadorov (16) - Erik Johnson (6)
Philipp Grubauer (31)
On the injury front, for the Stars, it appears that Ben Bishop, Stephen Johns and Mattias Janmark are likely to still be “unfit to play”, though we’ll have to wait for warmups to see if any of them are ready for return with yesterday being a mandated day off for the team. For the Avalanche, Vladislav Namestnikov appears to have recovered, and if he draws in, it should move him to the second line with Kadri and Nichushkin, with Burakovsky and Donskoi moving back to the third line with Compher.
Keys to the Game
Second lines. Both teams feature star power at the top of the lineup and high-impact checking lines. The Pavelski line should be up against the Kadri line, and both can drive play. The team that dominates this matchup should win Game 1.
Goaltending. Khudobin has been good enough to win, but he has yet to have a great game. Grubauer’s numbers look great, but against a weak Arizona offense. A strong game by either slants the ice significantly.
Physical play. Against the Flames, the Stars were the skill team, albeit one that can play a physical game when needed. Against the Avalanche, the Stars are the bigger and more physical team. Both teams have agitators (Perry and Kadri) who will try to goad things over the line. It plays to their advantage if Dallas can play the body within the flow of the game.