The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators sit all square at two wins apiece in their first-round playoff series. A large part of that has to do with the Stars building an impressive brand of confidence. And as that confidence continues to bloom, they continue to look like the better team in this series.
For the first time in their first-round series, the Dallas Stars were put in a corner on Wednesday night.
With the puck dropping in a critical Game 4, the Stars needed a win. After winning Game 1 on the road in Nashville, they had dropped the previous two contests and had fallen victim to a 2-1 deficit. They had one more game to get it right and back to even on home ice before heading back to Nashville for Game 5. A loss would put them on the brink and force them to win out (including two wins at Bridgestone Arena) if they wanted to advance to round two. A win, on the other hand, would push them back to even and give them a boost before hitting the road.
So yes, they were in a tight spot. While it was only slight, the Predators still held an advantage in the series and had an upper hand.
That also provided the Stars with an opportunity to panic. Sure, they kept a cool hand about them following their loss on home ice in Game 3 and sounded like the more confident team going into Game 4, but a big bounce back performance was required if they wanted to bet back on track.
After 14 minutes, the game seemed all but over.
The Stars were on the hunt from the opening face-off and immediately began applying pressure. Instead of sticking to their “weathering the storm early” policy as they did in Games 1-3, Dallas got out to an early trot that quickly turned into a sprint.
They drew a penalty just 3:01 into the period when Mattias Ekholm hi-sticked Blake Comeau. 41 seconds later, Roope Hintz scored on an absolute laser of a wrist shot that sailed past the shoulder of Pekka Rinne. The goal broke an 0-for-11 power play scoring drought for Dallas and marked the Stars’ first goal in a first period this series.
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But it didn’t stop there. 76 seconds later, Alexander Radulov scored on the Stars’ second power play opportunity to make it 2-0. Less than four minutes after that, Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau put together a hardworking drive to the offensive zone, and Cogliano eventually scored on a rebound chance to push the deficit to 3-0. In control? Absolutely. And yet, there was still more in store.
Mats Zuccarello scored another power play goal with 6:15 to go in the period and made it 4-0 Dallas. A 3/4 mark on the power play and four goals in the first period is enough to make either team in this series grin. After all, neither team had scored more than four goals and only one power play goal had been scored between the two teams in the first three games.
But while the first period was impressive, it was the final two periods that really put the icing on the cake.
That’s because the Dallas Stars didn’t quit. As the second period got rolling, they didn’t sink into their defensive style and try to simply preserve their 4-0 lead; instead, they kept pushing.
“I don’t think it’s as easy as it looks. If they score a couple of goals there, they create momentum and suddenly, they’re back in the game. That’s where I think we did a really good job today. We closed it down and kept playing our game.” – John Klingberg following Game 4
Around the halfway point of the period, John Klingberg (who finished with three assists in the game) forced a turnover in the Nashville zone with an aggressive play at the blue line and fed it across to Hintz, who ripped a shot home for his second goal of the game. 5-0 Dallas.
And although Roman Josi scored from the blue line with a shot through traffic, it didn’t matter. The Stars kept their push going from the start of the game to the end, dominating possession time and cashing in on chances as they came across them on their way to a 5-1 win. In perhaps their biggest game and highest-pressure situation of the season, the Stars powered through. They showed confidence, and that’s important.
When this series began, there was no telling where it might go. Two Central division rivals with strong defenses and elite goaltending that split their season series. Where ever could it go? Seven games, hopefully.
And now, it’s a best-of-three because of their hard work and confidence. The Dallas Stars looked over their slow starts and power play woes and trounced the Predators in a must-win.
It all goes back to being confident. The Stars have been the better team in three of the four games this series and have pushed the Predators onto their heels. They are brimming with determination and are simply playing their game, and the results are beginning to fall in their favor.
You could see it when they netted four goals (with three coming on the power play) in the first period, tying a franchise record for goals in a playoff period. You could see it when they chased Rinne out of the net before first intermission. You could see it when Roope Hintz squared up to a charging P.K. Subban and knocked him to the ice. You could see it when Ben Bishop stopped 34-35 after struggling in Game 3.
This is a Dallas Stars team that is proving to be a tough out. They aren’t crumbling when the pressure rises and are sticking to their game plan regardless of the situation. They aren’t panicking and are playing with a level of confidence that usually isn’t seen from teams that are relatively new to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Yes, the series is still deadlocked at 2-2. Yes, the Stars now have to go back to Bridgestone Arena and try to pick up another road win to put them ahead in the series. This is still very much either team’s series to win.
But with the way the Dallas Stars are playing and they way they are countering the Predators at every turn, they seem to be in a really good spot right now.
“It’s huge,” said Montgomery about the win. “[If it’s] 3-1, there’s such a small margin for error. Now, we get to play aggressively and play on our toes and hopefully push the series.”
All that’s left to do is carry that momentum into the final 2-3 games.