After a disappointing 2014-15 season where the Dallas Stars found themselves golfing in mid-April, they battled their way back to the top of the Western Conference and are in the playoff for just the second time in eight years.
Dallas’ first round opponent is the Minnesota Wild, who have made the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Stars won the season series 4-1, but it was a closely contested series with three of the five games being decided in overtime.
The Stars missed the playoffs last season despite ranking second in the NHL in scoring and they were even better this season, leading the NHL with 3.21 goals per game. En route to the 4-1 season series win over the Wild, Dallas averaged 3.60 goals per game and 2.60 goals against.
Let’s break this series down.
The Stars led the NHL in scoring on the backs of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. However, they will start the series without Seguin, who has been sidelined since March 17th with a cut Achilles. Seguin skated on Monday, but won’t be ready until mid-way through the series. While Seguin has been out, Jason Spezza has stepped up with nine points (4G / 5A) in nine games. The Stars are an interesting group that has a nice mix of veterans and young players.
Spezza is one of the veterans that will need to step-up if the Stars are going to make a run. It will be his first postseason appearances with Dallas, but he has 56 career playoff games under his belt, with 52 career postseason points (17G / 35A). Ales Hemsky is another forward that stepped up in Seguin’s absence, posting two goals and seven assists (nine points) in his last 10 games—when the Oilers had a lengthy playoff run in 2005-06 and Hemsky had 17 points (6G / 11A) in 24 games. He is obviously 10 years older, but he is one of a few players on this roster with more than a handful of playoff games under his belt.
We all know that they can score, but keeping the puck out of their net has been a challenge. Since being recalled from Texas (AHL), Stephen Johns and Johnny Oduya have played well as the Stars’ second pairing. Kris Russell was acquired from Calgary at the deadline, but has yet to make a huge impact because of injuries—however he will be ready for Game 1. Their top pair is where all of the offence comes from. John Klingberg was fifth among defensemen in points with 58 points (10G / 48A) while Alex Goligoski had another consistent offensive season, scoring five goals and 32 assists (37 points) in 82 games. It will be interesting to see how Klingberg, Russell and Goligoski can perform for the Stars’ fourth ranked power-play (22.1%), going up against the Wild’s 27th ranked penalty-kill.
Between the pipes is where things get dicey for the Stars. They brought in Antti Niemi to challenge Kari Lehtonen, but it didn’t really work. Dallas was 19th in goals against average, with Niemi posting a 2.67 GAA versus Lehtonen’s 2.76. However, it was Lehtonen who was hot down the stretch, winning six of his last seven. He was 2-0-0 with a 3.13 GAA and .897 SV% vs. the Wild this year and should start Game 1.
The Wild are in a bit of trouble heading into the playoffs. They come into the postseason having lost five in a row while scoring just six goals over that span and are in danger of start the playoffs without Zach Parise. Parise missed Saturday’s season finale and Monday’s practice, putting his status for Thursday’s series opener. Thomas Vanek likely won’t be available either but Erik Haula, who also missed Monday’s practice should play.
Without Parise they will start in a big hole, but like they Stars, they also have a good mix of young an old up front. Mikko Koivu led the way with 56 points (17G / 39A) this season, but they are still waiting for their second line centre Mikael Granlund to break-out. Missing their leading goal scorer will put a tonne of pressure on their next two best wingers, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Niederreiter will be vital—he has picked up seven goals in 23 career playoff games and 2015-16 has been his biggest season so far.
On the back end everything begins and ends with Ryan Suter. He is unlike any other defenseman in the NHL, playing nearly 30 minutes per night. His 28:36 TOI/GM was actually lower than the last two seasons, but he tied a career-high with eight goals and set a career-best with 43 assists and 51 points. Surer’s playoff numbers haven’t been great but he will play a massive role, seeing 30 minutes per night against Benn and the Stars’ other big guns.
After Suter, the Wild have a young D-corps. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have been around for a while, but Matt Dumba and Mike Reilly are new. Dumba plays well at both ends of the rink. He has a big shot and is a physical hitter, while Reilly is a first year defenseman who put up massive numbers in college. However, he has just one goal and six assists in 29 games this season and likely won’t have a huge postseason impact.
In goal it is all Devan Dubnyk. He had a strong year, although it was inconsistent. Dubnyk was 32-26-6 with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% this year—making him 59-35-8 in 105 career regular season starts with the Wild. He had a 2.52 GAA in the postseason last year and was 1-1-1 with a 2.64 GAA and .922 SV% vs. the Stars this year.
Stars in 5.
It’s obvious that the Stars have the fire power to go deep in the postseason, but their goaltending and D-zone coverage will be an issue as the playoffs go on.
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