Can The Top Line Shine in Round 2?

Against the Predators, the Stars’ biggest guns brought their biggest games. From series-defining hits and scintillating moments of skill to overtime heroics and everything in between, Seguin, Radulov, and Benn set the tone. Now they need to do it again against the Blues.

It feels good to see the Dallas Stars get a win, doesn’t it? It feels even better to get that win. In Round 1, the Dallas Stars proved equal to the task of unseating a Nashville Predators squad that had, at one point, been considered amongst the NHL’s strongest contenders. Six games later, the Predators are heading home while the Stars move on to face the one-time laughing stock St. Louis Blues. That’s the thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs — the games rarely get easier. If the Stars are going keep running, they will need to continue a crucial trend: production from the lineup’s biggest guns.

The names at the top of the marquee played a major role in Dallas’ first round victory. Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg generated 21 points (seven goals, 18 assists) against the Predators. Considering the Stars scored 18 total goals, that’s an impressive figure. In particular, the deployment and use of Dallas’ top three forwards is a critical go-forward trend to watch.

Nashville, by and large, could not devise an answer to the Benn-Seguin-Radulov combination. That’s not shocking, but what is shocking is just how often head coach Jim Montgomery was able to go to the proverbial well. After playing just 3.6% of their even-strength shifts together in Game 1, the trio of Benn, Seguin, and Radulov played together the rest of the way as follows:

Game 2: 17.2%
Game 3: 14.2%
Game 4: 21.3%
Game 5: 33%
Game 6: 23.3%

The Predators boasted the league’s fourth stingiest defense (2.59 goals-against per game), and the Stars’ top unit was still able to hit the scoresheet each and every game of the series. While it is fair to expect a team’s top players to produce when it matters most, the degree to which Dallas’ crew came through was impressive. More plainly, the Predators knew the punch was coming and still got floored.

Montgomery also got away with icing his big guns while not getting killed elsewhere in the matchup. Justin Dowling (-5), Tyler Pitlick (-5), Jason Spezza (-3), and Jason Dickinson (-1) were the only forwards to register a negative goal-differential during the series. While it is not a catch-all stat, goal differential at least paints a broad picture of performance. Dowling and Pitlick present some problems, but over the course of a six-game series, his -5 plus/minus is hardly fatal, especially when the top three are 15 goals to the positive.

Stars fans better believe the St. Louis Blues are looking at tape. In Round 1, Monty gambled that his “Three Amigos” would outproduce whatever problems a stacked line might create elsewhere. It paid off in a big way. In Round 2, he will need to double down on the bet. Yes, the Stars are going to need tangible contributions from the likes of Mats Zuccarello (three goals), Roope Hintz (two goals), and Dickinson (two goals), but that’s not where their bread is buttered. There’s no shame in playing to a strength, just so long as that strength answers the bell.