It’s no secret that the Dallas Stars have been the better team for the past few games in their first-round series against the Calgary Flames. But unlike in Game 3, they are getting the desired results and find themselves within one win of closing out the series.
In a first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series that has delivered on the themes of unexpectedness, agonizing defeats, triumphant victories, and rampant emotion, the Dallas Stars have looked right at home.
Perhaps that’s due to their rollercoaster campaign in the shortened 2019-20 season that began with a 1-7-1 start and ended with a pandemic. The resilience that was required to navigate those twists and turns and still come out as a top-four team in the Western Conference on March 12 isn’t easy to come by.
Or maybe it’s because this team just knows how to adapt on the fly well. They don’t seem to get too high or too low at any point and keep their composure and confidence about them.
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Regardless of why, the Stars have shown up and shown out through the first five games against the Calgary Flames. And after a 2-1 win in Game 5 on Tuesday afternoon, they now have a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series and sit one win away from advancing to the second round.
It’s a spot that they have had to work hard for and earn over the past week.
After losing Game 1 to a more emotionally-charged Flames team that had just come out of a playoff series, the Stars have arguably been the better team in each game since. They dominated for long stretches of Game 2 and secured a 5-4 win on a Jamie Oleksiak goal late in the third period. They also controlled possession, scoring chances, and the overall tempo of Game 3, but fell victim to missed nets and a few bad bounces in a 2-0 loss. Game 4 was a resilient effort that involved a Joe Pavelski hat trick, a tying goal with 12 seconds remaining, and an overtime game-winning shot from John Klingberg that was deflected by Alexander Radulov to finish the 5-4 contest.
And in Game 5, the Dallas Stars once again proved to be the better team. They took control of the game out of the gate in the first period, created a number of good scoring chances, and established a solid pace. Their big players stepped up in big moments, their defensive structure returned in full force, and when they needed Anton Khudobin to step up in a big way, he did.
"“He ignited that bench tonight when he blocked that shot and that hurt like heck. But if you’re going to win in the playoffs, you’ve gotta be able to pay the price and Janny paid the price. That sparked the whole bench when we saw him dive in front of that shot. Janny has played very well and he’s skating well.” – Rick Bowness on Mattias Janmark‘s blocked shot in first period"
Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal on a nice pass from Tyler Seguin while driving the net midway through the first period to further the Stars’ momentum. And had it not been for a nice move and shot by Mikael Backlund with 46 seconds remaining, Dallas would have headed into first intermission with a lead. Still, the Stars owned a 14-7 advantage in shots on goal and dictated the pace.
The Stars got right back to managing the game in the second period. The game opened up a little bit and penalties were a non-factor, but the Stars remained in the driver’s seat. And when the third period began, it was a strong possession play and pass by Mattias Janmark that set John Klingberg up to score the game-winning goal. From that point, the Stars committed to their defense-first style and shut the door on the Flames for a pivotal win.
The Dallas Stars now have their first lead of the series. After rallying back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, the Stars find themselves one win away from cementing their spot in the final eight. It would be their first time to advance past the first round in back-to-back years since 2001. And if the past few games are any indication, the Stars should be prepared to make it happen.
In Game 5, the Stars resorted to playing their style of hockey while still commanding the game. Their top players scored important goals, the penalty kill went 4/4 and didn’t allow a shot on goal, and Khudobin turned aside all 15 shots faced in the third period as the Flames made a last-ditch attempt to force overtime.
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As commanding as Dallas has looked in the past four games, Calgary looks disheveled. Their top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm has combined for one goal (none at even strength) and six assists during the series. Their third line of Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett, and Dillon Dube was a game changer in the first few games, but has since cooled off and quieted. And while Cam Talbot continues to keep games close, he can only do so much.
Unlike in the regular season, the Dallas Stars have found a way to consistently outplay and outperform their opponent for the majority of the series. They are wearing the Flames down in different ways and beating them with an all-out attack. The Stars have won more defensive battles, created more scoring chances, and applied pressure on a constant basis over the past week. Their emotions are higher, but also more controlled. Simply put: they have been the better team and it’s showing.
All that’s left to do is keep doing what they’re doing and go for the clinching win in Game 6 on Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. CT.
“The toughest game to win is that knockout game, that fourth win,” Bowness said on Tuesday. “We’ve been talking to our players tonight and getting them ready for that. That’s the best game they’ve played against us this series, so give them a lot of credit. We’re going to see that kind of game for 60 minutes on Thursday.”