Dallas Stars: Lessons From 2019 Playoffs Provide Roadmap For Game 6

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 18: Cam Talbot #39 of the Calgary Flames blocks the net against Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 18, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 18: Cam Talbot #39 of the Calgary Flames blocks the net against Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars during the third period in Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 18, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

After four straight games of dominance and growing confidence, the Dallas Stars have an opportunity to eliminate the Calgary Flames and advance to the second round on Thursday night. In times like this, it can be wise to draw on past experiences when preparing for an elimination game.

Among the many pivotal moments in the Dallas Stars‘ run through the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, two of them shared a common theme: Game 6.

In the first round against the Nashville Predators, the Stars entered Game 6 with an exciting opportunity. After dispatching the Predators on the road with a dominant 5-3 win in Game 5, Dallas headed home with a chance to close out the series against the top team in the Central Division.

The Stars once again found themselves with a chance to advance in Game 6 of the second round. They had stuck to their identity in Game 5 and secured a 2-1 win on the road to push the St. Louis Blues to the brink.

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Through both series, the Stars had an opportunity to punch their ticket to round two. In both series, they built a 3-2 series lead after clawing back from a 2-1 deficit. They were squaring off with two Central Division opponents that they knew rather well. In round one, they were trying to put two years of playoff-less frustration behind them and advance to the final eight for the first time since 2016. In round two, they had an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2008.

And in each Game 6, the Dallas Stars learned a different, but valuable lesson.

Those are lessons that the Stars can use on Thursday night as Dallas tries to close out the Calgary Flames in Game 6 at 9:30 p.m. CT.

“Against Nashville, it was our first taste of seeing an opposing team come at you with everything they’ve got,” Tyler Seguin said following Tuesday’s Game 5 win. “It’s the hardest game to win. In that Nashville game, we went after them. With St. Louis, I thought we kind of stood back a little bit in Game 6 and they won that game and forced a Game 7.”

In the sixth game against the Predators, there was an inherent belief that the Stars were the better team in the series. Besides two narrow losses in Games 2 and 3, Dallas had controlled the tempo, energy, and momentum in the series. They stole two of three games at Bridgestone Arena, an arena known for its rowdy and intimidating home crowds. Their best skaters stepped up on a nightly basis, with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg combining for eight goals, 16 assists, and a +20 rating through six games.

To top it all off, Ben Bishop went 4-2-0 with a 1.89 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. The Stars entered Game 6 with a winning mindset and brought their same level of energy in a critical game. As a result, they countered a strong early push by the Predators and closed out the series with 51 shots on goal and a 2-1 win secured by a John Klingberg goal.

But in Game 6 of the St. Louis series, the tide turned. The Blues brought a last-ditch effort to Dallas and used it to heighten the emotion and intensity of the elimination game. They established a 2-1 lead in the second period, held Dallas to no goals at 5-on-5, and were the better team in the final 20 minutes. They went on to win 4-1 and shifted the series back to St. Louis, where they won the deciding Game 7 in double overtime.

And so, as the Dallas Stars once again prepare to face a similar opportunity, what can be gained from the past? What can be used as fuel for the present?

“We know what to expect,” Bowness said on Wednesday. “We battled hard in both of those games. You just have to take the same approach that we’ve taken from Game 1 here. We have to go out and play Dallas Stars hockey.

“We know the desperation level that they’re going to come at us with. If you take anything from those two games, it’s that. But with that being said, it’s up to us to make sure we’re playing at our desperate level. The focus is going to be on that.”

Well, for starters, the Stars are expecting the Flames to be at their best. In both Game 6s last season, the Predators and Blues put forward their strongest efforts and made it difficult on Dallas. The Flames, who have been outplayed by the Stars in terms of possession and scoring chances for most of the series, have found a way to keep games close by cashing in on opportunities and receiving stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot.

“We have to be ready to attack that team,” Seguin said following Game 5. “They’re a heck of a hockey team and they have a lot of good players. I’m sure they’re going to come out firing, so we have to be ready.”

And with their last-ditch effort should come a heightened sense of emotion and intensity.

“Emotions will be running a little higher because it is an elimination game,” Bowness said on Wednesday. “When emotions run higher, you’re trying to simplify the game a little bit.”

The first five games of this series have required the Stars to win in different ways and keep a consistent level of energy. They have found ways to do so and have earned the chance to be on the right side of an elimination game. But four of the five games have been decided by one goal, so the Flames have found ways to keep things interesting and hold themselves in the series.

That was evident in Game 5 when the Flames flipped the script after Klingberg scored the eventual game-winning goal in the third period. Calgary pushed hard in retaliation, looking for a tying goal that they never found.

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“That’s the best game they’ve played against us this series, so give them a lot of credit,” Bowness said following Game 5. “We’re going to see that kind of game for 60 minutes on Thursday.”

The Dallas Stars have looked like the more confident and determined group through the first five games. They are getting contributions from throughout their lineup, committing to their identity at important points in games, and turning to Anton Khudobin to make some big saves. And for the most part, everything has fallen into place.

Last season, the Stars experienced both sides of Game 6. They were the better team against Nashville and landed the final blow to eliminate the top team in the Central. Against St. Louis, they stood back and allowed the Blues to grab a season-saving win and take the momentum into Game 7.

Tonight’s Game 6 against the Flames presents the same opportunity. Calgary will be throwing everything they can at Dallas, and it will be up to the Stars to respond with the intensity and focus that has helped them gain the upper hand over the past few games and in a critical Game 5.

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“It’s why we continue to tell guys to stay in the moment,” Bowness said. “We scored that goal in the third and that just cranked them up and they were coming at us. Don’t give the other team momentum and don’t make it easy for them, which we did on a couple of shifts on [Tuesday] night. Momentum is definitely there.

“We talk about staying in the moment. We didn’t let that goal against bother us. We went right back on the attack and could’ve made it 2-1 right away. Stay in the moment. It’s shift-to-shift and whistle-to-whistle.”