The Dallas Stars didn’t let a quick turnaround, Colorado’s top line, or the Avalanche’s recent dominance in the postseason faze them as they charged forward for a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the second round on Saturday night. It was yet another display of this team’s confidence in the face of resilience.
No team has scored more goals than the Dallas Stars since the Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Aug. 11. In seven games, they have found the back of the net 26 times via 12 different skaters. Only two other teams are currently above the 20-goal mark.
Read that one more time.
For a team that finished 26th in scoring (2.58 goals per game) in the 2019-20 regular season, that’s an incredible turnaround. The Stars have tallied at least five goals in four of their past six games and used an all-out offensive assault to both eliminate the Calgary Flames in the first round and steal early momentum in their second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
And yet, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when discussing the surprises that this Dallas Stars team has produced over the past 12 days.
After an 0-4-2 losing streak carried them into the pause and a shaky 1-2-0 effort in the Western Conference round-robin, the Stars entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs on an uncertain note. Their offense was still relatively non-existent, their defense had given up a combined 10 goals in the three round-robin games, and both Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin were dealing with issues that left them “unfit to play.”
To top it all off, they were matched up against a Calgary Flames team that had just wiped out the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the Qualifiers round.
It looked to be a daunting matchup for a Stars team that didn’t look comfortable just yet. But that worry only lasted one game.
Following a 3-2 loss in Game 1, the Stars took control of the series and were the better team in terms of possession, scoring chances, offensive explosiveness, goaltending, and overall execution in their game plan. They were also the more resilient and determined team, winning Game 2 with 40 seconds left, tying Game 4 with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime, and rallying from an early 3-0 deficit to clinch the series in Game 6 with a 7-3 win.
By early Friday morning, the Stars seemed to be riding a wave of momentum. They had clinched a series and were one of the final eight teams standing for the second consecutive year.
That momentum was quickly challenged, however, when the Stars were matched up against the Colorado Avalanche, a team riding its own wave of confidence after scoring 14 goals in its previous two games against the Arizona Coyotes. Game 1 of the series was scheduled for a primetime slot on Saturday night, giving Dallas roughly 36 hours from the time they found out about the scheduling to prepare for a game that could define the series.
Mix that with the fact that Dallas took a pre-scheduled trip to Commonwealth Stadium for a mental break outside and didn’t hit the ice on Friday, and winning Game 1 looked like an uphill battle.
If the Stars had dropped the first game to a fast and energetic Avalanche team, there honestly wouldn’t have been a lot of blame on Dallas.
But they didn’t need the excuse.
“Absolutely huge. We had to get the guys out of the hotel. We needed a mental break, it was very obvious against Calgary. They went out yesterday and they had a lot of fun, and that’s what you need.” – Bowness on the impact of the team’s field trip on Friday
That’s because the Dallas Stars, who have become known for standing tall against adversity during the 2019-20 season, took it to Colorado in a 5-3 win.
“I think we were surprised,” Tyler Seguin said about the quick turnaround between series. “But we’ve faced adversity a lot this year, and if you want to call that adversity, you can. We were excited to go. Maybe it was a good thing we didn’t have that much time. The boys were feeling it tonight and it was a big win.”
It only took a handful of shifts in the first period to see that the Stars were locked in and ready to compete. The Stars opened the game with a strong forecheck, and that led to Tyler Seguin breaking his 13-game goal drought at the 4:00 mark on a nice feed from Jamie Benn behind the net.
“We didn’t like our start against Calgary in Game 6,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “We challenged the guys before the game about that. Just come out of the gate a lot harder. Let’s attack, that’s when we’re at our best. There’s a mentality that comes with that, and give the players credit, they got themselves ready to do that.”
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That goal ended up uncorking a dominant performance from the Stars’ top line. After combining for four goals and six assists in six games against Calgary, the “Big Three” for Dallas combined for three goals and five assists in Game 1 on Saturday.
Jamie Benn had three assists, Tyler Seguin had a goal and assist, and Alexander Radulov found the scoresheet three times with two goals (including the game-winner) and an assist. For all of the spotlight that was given to Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen (who, to their credit, combined for three goals and three assists), the Dallas top line stole the show in the first game.
“We’re not going anywhere without our top players,” Bowness said. “Their top players performed tonight, and so did ours. Good job by the Seguin line and Rads getting a couple. When Jamie is skating north and he’s a beast like that as we all know, he’s a difficult man to handle.”
But it wasn’t just the top line. Blake Comeau scored his first goal of the postseason after a strong shift in the offensive zone to give the Stars a lead after MacKinnon tied it up at 1-1. And when Dallas needed a knockout punch in the third period, Roope Hintz was there to score his first of the playoffs as well.
Anton Khudobin looked calm and confident in net and made some impressive saves on the Avalanche’s most dangerous shooters down the stretch. He finished the night with 28 saves on 31 shots.
Now, there were some mistakes and hiccups along the way. Jamie Benn made an errant pass back to Miro Heiskanen in the second period that led to MacKinnon’s second goal to make it 4-3. Those things are going to happen against a team that’s as good as Colorado, but the key is staying focused and having a short memory. The Stars didn’t buckle and kept their focus locked.
“You stay in the moment,” Bowness said. “It’s shift to shift. That’s a very good hockey club over there, and we’re not going to control every shift. We’re just not. They’re going to get their chances, which they did tonight. Mistakes are made at both ends. And if a mistake happens, as I tell the players all the time, just get ready for your next shift.
“You can’t go on the ice worried about your last shift. You have to get ready on the bench for your next shift. Again, it’s staying in the moment.”
And when “Dallas Stars hockey” was needed to lock down the game in the third period, they did just that. The Dallas defense shut the door and received some big shot blocks while limiting Colorado to just one high danger scoring chance in the final 20 minutes. Hintz’s final tally helped seal the deal.
“We tried to play in front of them and always try to back check and be close to each other,” Radulov said. “Just battle hard and win those 50-50 pucks. I think it was a close game and I think they played good, too.”
And now, the Dallas Stars have an early 1-0 lead and seem to be in control of the momentum. For a matchup that seemed to favor the Avalanche’s speed and deep scoring attack, the Stars took Game 1 personally and once again proved their defiance in the face of adversity.
Quick turnaround? No full practice to prepare? Nathan MacKinnon? A high-flying team that blitzed them in a 4-0 loss during the round-robin? No challenge was too tall for the Stars on Saturday night.
They just seem to be rolling with the punches right now and are firing on all cylinders. That’s a dangerous place for any team to be during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The next step is finding a way to keep it steady as the Avalanche try to swing back.