Sizing Up: Ranking Dallas Stars potential first round opponents

Apr 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) celebrates with the bench after scoring against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) celebrates with the bench after scoring against the Colorado Avalanche in the second period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports /

A seat at the table has been earned and the Stars have the hallowed x next to their name in the standings, indicating a puncher’s chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup when it’s all said and done. With 5 games remaining, and only 1 against a playoff team Saturday vs. Vegas, the Dallas Stars have a chance to solidify their standing as the top dog in the division.

On the other hand, they could coast to the finish and tinker with the lineup to find a more sustainable formula for the run itself. Whichever path they choose, it boils down to three opponents that they will most likely face in the first round. Each of these squads carries varying levels of optimism for our lads in Victory Green, and they are listed accordingly.

Dallas Stars Playoff Opponent Preview: Worst Case Scenario, the Colorado Avalanche

If the Dallas Stars draw the Avs, it means they’ve surrendered first place to Minnesota and is in the 2 or 3 seed with Colorado as the countering 3 or 2. While this is not where the season is pacing to close, the Stars could squander a great opportunity and land in the defending Champs’ iron sights.

Considering the Stars would need to stumble through this easy home stretch, their status looking across at this lineup would be disheartening. After a slow start and a myriad of injuries, the Avalanche are finally getting up to full speed with the same contributors from last year’s cup team.

While the Stars are more than capable of vanquishing the Avs, this would be the most balanced team they have the potential of seeing in the first round. The defensive top 4 of Toews-Makar and Girard-Byram is enough to make up for their patchwork bottom 6 forwards, as they currently stand. Landeskog returning to close the season could jolt their lineup into better form, but they’ll likely need a Lehkonen-style emergence from some of their depth players to make up for their net-minding deficiencies.

I would imagine Avalanche fans are not too keen on the idea of drawing us in the first round either. Dissimilar to most leagues, having the best player on the ice does not always guarantee the best results game in and game out (Just ask Roman Josi). Miro Heiskanen is known for neutralizing the NHL’s top offensive threats, allowing the Stars to force teams into battles of depth.

While Nate Mackinnon may be a top 3 player in the world, the Stars have successfully battled him in the postseason. Couple that with Oettinger stacking up much better than both Av backstops combined, I still feel confident in the Stars against their least appetizing opening series.

Dallas Stars Playoff Opponent Preview: Optimal Scenario, the Minnesota Wild

Facing Minnesota would mean a similar situation matriculated to the one referenced initially, where the Stars lose focus and fumble their advantageous position. The mindset of the team heading into the series makes all the difference when it comes to these outlined situations.

Of course, Minnesota is the only other non-Wild Card opponent that the Stars could likely face in Round 1. That being said, there is a stark contrast between the series between the Wild and the Avalanche.

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Colorado is more talented than Minnesota, given the results of last year’s tournament. Minnesota has performed very well over the past couple of seasons, with Kirill Kaprizov igniting a previously lifeless roster that still has cap hits for Ryan Suter over $6.3 million until 2025 (hard to believe, I know).

With an emergence from Ryan Hartman, young gun Matt Boldy, and the acquisitions of Marc-Andre Fleury with Stars legend Mats Zuccarello, the Wild are night and day from their mired Parise days. However, the other former Stars highlight the squad’s weakness and why their run would be a bit more challenging.

John Klingberg was acquired to facilitate more offense from the D-core while conceding an already inefficient amount of defensive acumen. Someone should have told Matt Dumba that he’s in a contract year because the only energy he seems to show is against Mason Marchment between whistles.

Rounding out the trio is the ghost of Alex Goligoski to complete a goalie-dependent defensive end. While Fleury and Gustafson are a stellar tandem, the Stars have too efficient of a top 6 forward group to be staved off for 4-7 games. I can admit that this series would be a fun one while not being too intimidated by a team that’s in the early stages of its Cup window as well.

Dallas Stars Playoff Opponent Preview: Best Case Scenario, the Seattle Kraken

For all intents and purposes, this is the most likely matchup the Dallas Stars will draw in mid-April. Similar to Edmonton, the Stars were able to showcase what a series on Seattle ice would look like and it doesn’t look half bad.

The other teams that the Stars are in line to face all have an aspect of Star power to their squads, and this Seattle team’s star is the team itself. Jared McCann being the team’s leading scorer feels reminiscent of William Karlsson leading Vegas during their run. Beneath McCann, the squad has a solid distribution of deployment, talent, and responsibility.

The back end has solid defenders in Vince Dunn and former Stars Bubble Run All-Star Jamie Oleksiak to navigate their zone entries. The beneficiary of these has been Rookie Matty Beniers, as he’s cemented his role in the lineup during his Calder run this season. To me, this is all that the series would boil down to as a Stars fan.

At the postseason awards, Beniers will get the Calder trophy no matter how strongly Wyatt brings this campaign to a close. The Stars will have the opportunity to vindicate that inevitable moral loss as soon as the puck drops for Round 1.

The Kraken may have the worst goalie tandem in the playoffs, as Philippe Grubauer cashed in on a hot run with Colorado for $5.9 mil a year and appears to be cruising. Martin Jones has actually been the minder of choice, based on usage, but neither of them has a GAA below 3 or a save percentage above 90%.

The Stars have 2 of the most offensively efficient lines in the NHL and would meet either candidate with their ears pinned back. As deep and balanced as their skaters may be, they cannot be perfect for 60 minutes. With no star power and lackluster netminding, the Kraken is treading water to get to the postseason and the Stars have shown to have an appetite for calamari.

The Stars are first in the Central for a reason, and there’s no higher they can go than that. Earning a bid against a wild card team makes all the difference in starting their Cup run, as the more competitive teams will be cannibalizing the rest of the central to get the playoffs started.

The past week has shown the benefits of the Stars holding form in the last dozen games and how they control their own destiny. The Stars have the forwards, goalie, and a Norris-contending defenseman to show that the bubble run was not a fluke. The key to proving that will start with what kind of tinder they use to light their playoff fire.