The Dallas Stars will likely face their toughest test of the year on Monday night as they try to down the Nashville Predators and punch their ticket to round two. And if Sunday night in the Stanley Cup Playoffs proved anything, it’s that their series is still far from over.
What did the Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Vegas Golden Knights all have in common on Sunday morning? Well, there were actually a handful of things.
For one, all three teams held 3-2 leads in their respective playoff series. On top of that, they were all back at home and preparing for a Game 6 that offered them a chance to clinch a first-round series victory. To top it all off, all three are currently the lower seed in their round one matchup.
The only difference between the three clubs was that the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights played their potential clinching games on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Stars awaited their Monday evening matchup with the Nashville Predators at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
And as Monday night now comes into focus, the Stars will be the only team of the three listed above that still has hope of closing it out in six games.
That’s because Sunday was a rough day for home teams with a 3-2 advantage that were trying to close out the series. The Maple Leafs started things out with a narrow, frustrating 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon. After falling behind 3-1 midway through the second period, Toronto tried to launch a comeback effort that fell just short, thus evening the series at 3-3.
Sunday night brought the Golden Knights a chance to send the San Jose Sharks home for good in front of a sold-out Vegas crowd. The Golden Knights had dropped Game 5 after winning three in a row in the series to put the Sharks within one, but had an opportunity to close it out on home ice. And though they outshot the Sharks 59-29 and pushed into a second overtime, they couldn’t crack Martin Jones before Tomas Hertl scored on a shorthanded chance to win the game for San Jose.
Just like that, we’ve got at least two Game 7’s guaranteed in the opening round. On Monday night, the Predators will try and push that number to three by escaping Dallas with a gritty win in Game 6.
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This is where the Dallas Stars have to learn and learn quick.
It’s been a good handful of days for the Stars. After stealing Game 1 on the road and taking an early lead over the Predators, Dallas dropped two consecutive contests to fall into a 2-1 deficit. But the hunger and determination never really left, making it only a matter of time before they clawed back.
They did on Wednesday and Saturday. The Stars pounced on the Predators in Game 4, scoring four goals in the first period (including three on the power play) on their way to a 5-1 routing. On Saturday, they were back in Nashville in front of a riled up Bridgestone Arena crowd and powered through to a 5-3 win.
So, are the Dallas Stars brimming with confidence? It looks like it. They have been the better team in each of the past three games and have looked faster, more aggressive, and more determined. They are frustrating the Central division champions at every turn, leaving Nashville searching for answers.
“We’re all trying to play the same way within our system here. We’ve been successful as of late and we’re going to continue trying to play the right way.” – Jamie Benn after Game 6
But the series isn’t over.
The thing about Game 6 is that it always offers a team on the brink and a team with what seems to be a decisive advantage. One team sits a win away from advancing, while the other team sits a loss away from the dreaded offseason.
And when that setup comes about, you tend to get the best game out of the team in the danger zone.
Take the Vegas-San Jose series for example. The Golden Knights, like the Stars, have pretty much controlled every game except one in the series. They have been more aggressive and shown more focus and poise than the Sharks in the last few games. And yet, the Sharks just forced a Game 7 back on home ice due to a heroic performance by Martin Jones in net and a shorthanded goal in double overtime.
So, the reminder lying within is that this series is not over. The Dallas Stars still need one win to punch their ticket to a round two matchup with the St. Louis Blues. They still have to down the top team in the Central division one more time before advancing. And with Nashville on the edge, you can expect that they will be bringing their best effort of the series.
“It’s been a good team effort so far,” Seguin said about the Stars after Game 5. “Just like last game, we’re going to park this pretty quickly. Play some cards on the way home, enjoy the win today, and get ready to get back to work tomorrow.”
Sure, the Stars are on a tear right now, scoring 10 goals in the past two games. Sure, the Predators look rattled as they try to solve Ben Bishop and save their season. And yes, Dallas is now back at the AAC and has what should be a sold-out and hyped-up home crowd on their side.
But that’s what the Maple Leafs and Sharks had. And now, both of them are preparing for a deciding Game 7 on Tuesday night against an opponent that now seems to have the momentum as they head back to their own home rink. So, nothing is determined yet.
If the Dallas Stars can get over the high that has been provided by their recent dominant performances and stay confident on Monday night, they should have a good chance at ending it. The Predators will bring a gritty and emotional effort to tonight’s game, and the Stars will need to find a way to match it.
They are 1-1 at the American Airlines Center this postseason. Bishop and the power play struggled mightily in their Game 3 loss, but both bounced back in a big way in Game 4. And now, the Stars seem to be riding that momentum into Game 6.
But if Toronto and Vegas struggled with putting the series away on Sunday night, the Dallas Stars shouldn’t be any different. Nashville is bringing its best effort to Dallas in an attempt to stave off elimination. The Stars know that.
“The next one is the hardest one because it’s the potential to end someone’s season,” said Stars coach Jim Montgomery on Game 5. “That’s the challenge in front of us now.”
“We know the next one is going to be the hardest to win,” added Bishop.
Stay in the moment and they just might have a chance. Get lost in their momentum from the past two games and they just might fall victim to the same fate as Toronto and Vegas.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about having a short-term memory, both during good and bad times. Can the Dallas Stars use it to their advantage on Monday and be the better team just one more time?
“I think it’s grown quite a bit,” said Montgomery of his team’s postseason confidence. “Players relish getting out there right now and everybody wants the puck and everybody wants to hunt the puck. Right now, I think the players are feeling really good about themselves and that’s a good place to be. But, we have to channel our ‘stay in the moment’ and get back ready for Monday night.”
Puck drop on a potentially deciding game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the AAC. Can the Stars make this Nashville’s end of the line?