After an intense and fast-paced Game 1 on Saturday, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche will add another installment to the second-round series on Monday night. And though the Stars have an early series lead and plenty of recent momentum, the focus is on preparing for the game at hand and not getting too high or low.
The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche will approach Game 2 on Monday night (8:45 p.m. CT; NBCSN) from different angles.
Dallas, fresh off of an impressive win in Game 1 that pushed their playoff win streak to four games, will try to build on the momentum gained from Saturday and take a commanding hold of the series. Colorado, on the other hand, will try to rebound after a disappointing start and turn the series into a best-of-five.
But while the two teams are approaching it from different angles, the keys remain the same for both: start fast, set the pace early, get a big night from your big players, and shut down the opponent in the pivotal moments of the game.
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For the Avalanche, those keys have become critical in a game that could bring them back to level ground or force them to claw out of an even bigger hole.
“They’re going to come out of the gates like they tried to the other night and like we try to every night,” Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said on Monday afternoon. “You want to set the pace, they’re a fast-skating team, and that’s what we’re expecting. We’re fully expecting them to do what they did last game. They’re going to come out as hard as they can, just like we are.”
The Stars pulled off a high-energy 5-3 win in Game 1 and continued a trend of dominance that had been on display throughout the first round against the Calgary Flames. During postgame, a lot of their success was credited to the fast start and heavy forecheck that Dallas used early in the game to score the opening goal and establish the tone for the game.
On the other end, the Avalanche didn’t match the Stars’ speed and were forced to try and play catch up as a result.
Dallas was stronger on the forecheck, blocked more shots, limited Colorado’s speed and ability to create scoring chances in transition, and received an impressive effort from up and down the lineup. They did their best to work with the chances that Colorado’s top line received and neutralized their other three lines in the offensive zone. They were more emotionally invested, used their newfound offensive pressure to score at key points in the first 40 minutes, and shut the door with a typical Dallas Stars defensive effort along with some big saves by Anton Khudobin in the third period.
The Stars were the better team on Saturday night. Colorado’s focus now lies on being the better team in a pivotal Game 2.
As much as Game 1 in a Stanley Cup Playoffs series is a “feeling out” game for two teams, Game 2 has the ability to set the tone for the remainder of the series.
It’s a big opportunity for Colorado, but could be just as influential for Dallas.
Pucks and Pitchforks
The Dallas Stars have been on an unexpected tear over the past 13 days. A team that was hard-pressed to score during the regular season now has 26 goals in seven games to lead the NHL. Khudobin has been brilliant at times in the crease and is getting better with each passing game while Ben Bishop remains unfit to play. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg have played a big role in all three zones and have helped Dallas get rolling in the right direction.
They turned a 2-1 series deficit against Calgary into a 4-2 series win, rallied from a three-goal deficit in Game 6 to a 7-3 win, and entered Round 2 on a quick turnaround with energy and confidence.
And now, the opportunity is there to take firm hold of a series against a Stanley Cup favorite with a win in Game 2.
But with four consecutive wins and some dominant and overwhelming performances mixed in, how can the Dallas Stars avoid letting the success get to their head?
“You just keep addressing it, that’s what we do,” Bowness said. “The last game is behind us and we have a whole new challenge in front of us today. Does it feel good to win? Yeah. But if you want to rest on your laurels and think it’s automatically going to happen, you’re going to be in big trouble right away.”
For Bowness, a lot of it comes down to preparing properly for the game at hand while not getting too high or too low regarding recent results and achievements.
“If you prepare yourself the way we have to prepare ourselves to make it happen and not wait for it to happen,” Bowness added, “then you’re not resting on your laurels and you’re getting ready for that next big challenge.”
The players feel the same way as they prepare for another heavy push by the Avalanche.
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“I think we need to approach every game as its own situation,” Stars forward Jason Dickinson said. “We know that they’re going to come out and play hard. We’re obviously coming off of a pretty good all-around game for us. Of course we want to keep that momentum going, but every game is completely different from the last one.
“They’re going to look at video and change things just like we watch video and we change things. We expect them to come out strong, but nothing should change for us. We have to come out and match that intensity.”
Bowness and a number of Dallas Stars players have talked about not getting too high or too low throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but staying in the moment. When they outplayed the Flames in Game 3 and lost, the key was not getting lost in a failed effort and bringing the same intensity in Game 4. When they were down 3-0 in the first seven minutes of Game 6 against Calgary, the key was not getting too low, getting the next goal, and climbing back into the game.
Now, the focus centers around not getting too high or comfortable.
The Stars have scored at least five goals in four of their past six games, have received a goal from 12 different players since the first round started, and continue to find their way around any challenge or obstacle that appears. They have scored the first goal in three of the past four games after sacrificing the opening goal in the previous 11. To top it all off, they have won four playoff games in a row for the first time since 2008.
They are riding an undeniable wave of momentum and have all the makings of a confident playoff team. But this series is far from over, and the Avalanche know what’s at stake in Game 2. Even without their starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer and alternate captain Erik Johnson, who are both out indefinitely with injuries, expect Colorado to bring their best effort in what could be a must-win game.
The series is just getting started. The Avalanche know that, and so do the Stars. All that matters is preparing properly, coming out of the gate strong, and finding a way to win another game.
“We’ve won four in a row, but don’t worry about it,” Bowness said. “Yes, it’s important. Yes, the confidence is there. But the preparation has to be there from each individual player to make sure that when we go on the ice, we are prepared to make things happen and not waiting to see and reacting to what happens.”