Dallas Stars Have Interesting Test Against Minnesota Wild

The Dallas Stars are a little over a day away from their first playoff game against the Minnesota Wild. How do the two teams stack up against each other?

Underdogs have always been prevalent in sports. Ever since Michael Jordan and the Toon Squad defeated the Monstars in a dramatic second half comeback (or maybe it was a little before that), the underdog has been an acclaimed position to be in, whether it’s going into a heated rivalry match or an intense playoff matchup.

This is the position the Minnesota Wild will be embracing in the latest edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scheduled to start tonight. The Wild fought through adversity and multiple slumps throughout the year, and barely snuck in as the second wild card team, otherwise known as the final spot. The Wild will aim to do the improbable and knock off the best team as the underdog.

Then again, being the best in the division and conference is pretty cool, too. That is where the Dallas Stars come in.

The Stars and Wild are plotted against each other in the first round of the Central portion of the bracket, and there is sure to be plenty of disagreements and scuffles throughout the series.

But what strengths does each team have? And how do those strengths size up against the opponent’s? Here is a detailed look at what each team is bringing to the table, along with a final assessment.

Offense

Dallas Stars: If you even slightly follow the NHL, you have probably heard and witnessed that the Dallas Stars own the best offense in the league. Their combination of speed and depth makes them an infuriating and almost unstoppable force when it comes to scoring goals. They averaged 3.23 goals per game in the regular season (first place among all NHL teams), netting 265 goals on the year.

The crazy things is, it’s not just the top line forwards doing the damage. While Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin contributed 74 of those goals, the rest of the offensive core made their mark. Names like Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, and even Mattias Janmark scored plenty of significant goals during the year. The Stars can hit you from multiple different angles, making them the most threatening offense in the system.

Overall grade: A+

Minnesota Wild: The Wild finished a lowly 18th this year in average goals scored, tallying 213 on the year for 2.60 per game. Their top goal scorer was Zach Parise, tallying 25 in 70 games. Only three Wild players passed the 20 goal mark this year. Their offense was a bit on the rusty side, and losing Thomas Vanek and Parise to injuries for at least the first game of the series is a major negative.

Overall grade: C

Defense

Dallas Stars: The Stars have seen significant improvements over the last year to their blue line. Adding Johnny Oduya and Stephen Johns in the offseason helped round out some of the vulnerable spots in the defensive scheme. The Stars still struggle from time to time, but can produce an effective defensive rotation on most nights that plays a shut down game while still contributing on offense.

The Stars finished 19th this year in goals against per game at 2.78 (228 on the year). It is comforting to know that even when the defense falters, the Stars can still score their way out of a bind.

Overall grade: C+

Minnesota Wild: This is probably the biggest advantage Minnesota has going into the first round. The Wild have an intriguing defense that plays fast and sticks to the puck hard. They aren’t afraid to get hemmed into their own zone, and are confident that their defense can pick them out of it.

Minnesota was an impressive 9th place in goals against average, allowing 2.49 per game (204 on the year). With Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, and Jared Spurgeon leading the charge, the Wild will have to hold their own against a furious Stars’ offensive attack.

Overall grade: B+

Goaltending

Dallas Stars: The Stars decided to take a different avenue this past offseason when GM Jim Nill traded for the rights to starting veteran goaltender Antti Niemi. While keeping current starter Kari Lehtonen on board, Nill experimented during the season with a two-goalie tandem. Though there have been some kinks, the program has succeeded.

Both goalies finished the year with 25 wins, and were within one decimal place in save percentage totals (.905 and .906). The goals against average for each was kept to an acceptable rate (2.67 for Niemi and 2.76 for Lehtonen), and the duo helped carry the Stars to first place. It will be interesting to see how they handle the Wild’s offensive spread.

Overall grade: C+

Minnesota Wild: The Wild will once again lean on the services of Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper. Both goalies have seen a reasonable amount of time this season. Dubnyk (32-26-6, 2.33 GAA, .918 SV%) started the majority of games for Minnesota, but Kuemper (6-7-5, 2.43 GAA, .915 SV%) played a confident backup role.

Minnesota had some trouble in their crease this season with keeping the Stars out of the net. We’ll see if they can fix the holes before it’s too late.

Overall grade: C+

Special Teams

Dallas Stars: With great offense comes great power play, right? The Stars turned the tide on special teams from their misfortunes a year ago and now own the fourth best power play in the league. They averaged 22.1 percent on the season and sport a scary good core on their two units.

The penalty kill is improved as well. After stumbling through the middle portion of the season, the Stars salvaged their success on the PK and finished tenth overall with an 82.3 percent average.

Overall grade: B+

Minnesota Wild: The Wild finished the year on a note of mediocrity in terms of the power play. The Wild finished 15th in the NHL with an 18.5 percent success rate.

Their penalty kill, on the other hand, was rather horrific. The Wild finished 27th overall, only stopping an opponent’s power play 77.9 percent of the time. For a team that gave up four PP goals to Dallas on 13 attempts this past year, they will need to watch their sticks come game one to avoid any PK situations.

Overall: C+

Head-To-Head

The Dallas Stars were relatively successful against the Wild this past season. Unlike in prior seasons, the Stars won the majority of their games not only against Minnesota, but against the Central Division altogether.

This season, the Stars went 4-1-0 against the Wild. Minnesota finished the year 1-1-3 against Dallas. The Stars outscored Minnesota 18-13 in the five-game series, and outshot them 179-150.

Dallas went 9-10 on the penalty kill and 4-13 on the power play.

Antti Niemi finished with a record of 2-1-0, while Kari Lehtonen hoisted an undefeated 2-0-0 record. John Klingberg scored two of the four game-winning goals for Dallas.

The Stars were undefeated at Minnesota (3-0-0) and split the series in Dallas (1-1-0).

Every game between these two teams sold out during the regular season, whether it was at the American Airlines Center or Xcel Energy Center.

Final prediction: This series may end up being the most intense of any first round matchup. The history and controversy behind these two clubs is second to none and always contributes to exciting competition.

The Wild just barely skid into this playoff race, while the Dallas Stars have been plowing away for some time now at the top of the NHL ranks. Barring any catastrophic collapses, I see the Stars winning their first playoff series since 2008, defeating the Wild in five games.