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Round 1, Game 1 Preview: Minnesota Wild @ Dallas Stars

Credit: Tim Heitman / Dallas Stars

Welcome to the second season. For once, the Dallas Stars qualified early. The only question remaining as the Stars entered game 82 of the regular season was seeding – whether Dallas could pull off a Central Division title. On the line was a matchup against the Seattle Kraken or the Minnesota Wild.

Wild it is.

Dallas enters the playoffs the same way that the team spent most of the regular season: healthy. The last piece, Mason Marchment, played in the final game of the season and fit right back in with Max Domi and Tyler Seguin on the second line.

Dallas Stars Lineup

Jason Robertson (21) – Roope Hintz (24) – Joe Pavelski (16)
Mason Marchment (27) – Max Domi (18) – Tyler Seguin (91)
Jamie Benn (14) – Wyatt Johnston (53) – Evgeni Dadonov (63)
Radek Faksa (12) – Luke Glendening (11) – Ty Dellandrea (10)

Ryan Suter (20) – Miro Heiskanen (4)
Esa Lindell (23) – Jani Hakanpää (2)
Thomas Harley (55) – Colin Miller (6)

Jake Oettinger (29)
Scott Wedgewood (41)

There isn’t much to discuss with this lineup. The top nine is locked. You could question the absence of Joel Kiviranta – who made his name and NHL career by being a playoff monster during the Stars Stanley Cup run in the bubble. But that’s a quibble.

On defense, pairing Suter with Heiskanen was the topic of much discussion over the last year, but with the emergence of Harley, do the Stars really have another option (Lundqvist – but that’s just not happening unless something goes disastrously wrong)?

Playoff Oettinger is already a minor legend. A bit of league wide pressure on the netminder, for sure – but that pressure by all accounts is what he thrives on.

Minnesota Wild Lineup

Kirill Kaprizov (97) – Ryan Hartman (38) – Mats Zuccarello (36)
Marcus Johansson (90) – Frederick Gaudreau (89) – Matthew Boldy (12)
Marcus Foligno (17) – Sam Steel (13) – Gustav Nyquist (28)
Brandon Duhaime (21) – Connor Dewar (26) – Ryan Reaves (75)

Jacob Middleton (5) – Jared Spurgeon (46)
Jonas Brodin (25) – Matt Dumba (24)
Jon Merrill (4) – Brock Faber (7)

Filip Gustavsson (32)
Marc-Andre Fleury (29)

Missing Joel Eriksson Ek is a big deal. The center has been effective on both ends of the ice. If he’s ready for game one, matchups change significantly both offensively and defensively. The way things are, the Wild aren’t as deep as the Stars, and if they get behind, the Stars should be able to isolate their best defenders against the Wild top line.

On the backend, Spurgeon is one of the top defenders in the NHL. Over the season, Minnesota used their top pair to throw a blanket over Robertson-Hintz-Pavelski. Second pair of Brodin and Dumba are also solid.

There really isn’t a way to scout the Minnesota third pair. Merrill has been out of favor, but so has Klingberg – and he didn’t skate this morning. On the other side, Faber has two NHL games to his credit – all after his Golden Gophers lost in the final game of the Frozen Four. He’s 21, a second round draft pick that came to the Wild as part of the Kevin Fiala deal. Completely untested as a professional. Either Minnesota loves what he brings, or they hate their other options.

What hasn’t been seen is how Minnesota will defend against the Dallas top nine. The season series concluded prior to the trade deadline, so how the Wild deal with Domi on the second line and Dadonov on the third will be revealed as the game proceeds.

If you use Gustavsson’s season numbers, he should be the starter. But Fleury has the history and reputation.

Keys to the Game

Wild Defense. That Minnesota third pair will be sheltered and tested. It’s a potential fatal flaw in what is otherwise a stout defensive team.

Depth contributions. Both top lines drive play and score goals. On paper, the Stars middle six should have an advantage.

Special Teams and Penalties. Dallas has top five PP and PK units. Minnesota is top 50% – still decent. The Wild are 26th in the NHL in taking penalties and if they traipse to the penalty box it could prove deadly.

Talking Points