Contribution by Ken Hill (@LWOSPuckHead)
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are back which means it’s time to serve up another Last Word On Sports series preview. The Minnesota Wild take a wild card spot and make their fourth straight trip to the playoffs in the hopes of not being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth straight season. Dallas on the other hand, rebounded from falling short in 2014-15 and come in as the West’s #1 seed.
This series marks the first time Minnesota’s former and current franchise will meet in the post-season. Dallas outscored Minnesota 18-13 and won the season series 4-1, however it’s worth noting just one of those wins was in regulation.
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild First Round Series Preview
Both teams are missing two high profile players, as Minnesota’s Zach Parise (back), Thomas Vanek (upper-body) and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin (Achilles) find themselves listed as “questionable” for this Thursday’s series opener.
UPDATE: Both Thomas Vanek and Zach Parise will both sit out the for the first two games of the series. Tyler Seguin in turn practiced with the team this week, but his status for Game 1 is still not known.
The Stars fared well without Seguin, rolling into the playoffs with a 7-2 record since his injury. However, Seguin is a crucial part of the league’s most potent offensive team, finishing second on the Stars in scoring and 14th in the NHL with 73 points in 72 games. His quick recovery and possible return from a partially severed achilles would be welcome news for the team.
While the Stars will still have the likes of Jamie Benn (89 points, second in the NHL) and Jason Spezza (33 goals) to fall back on, the loss of Parise in Minnesota will likely be more acutely felt. The 31-year-old lead the Wild with 25 goals this year, and only two other players on the roster managed to crack the 20-goal plateau (Carlie Coyle and Nino Neiderreiter). For a Minnesota squad which finished 18th in goals for (213) this season, Parise is a huge loss.
Thomas Vanek had a disapointing season with just 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games, but he does have the talent to produce. He might have been able to help the Wild offset the loss of Parise on the wings, but will also miss time, not even travelling to Dallas for the first two games of the series. The Wild hope that some rest back in Minnesota will do the two high-profile wingers some good as they look to return to the lineup when the series shifts north.
Wild Need Offense to Step Up
It will be tough for Minnesota to keep up with the high-powered offense of the Stars, and they’ll need a number of names on the roster to contribute.
In fact, the Wild will need all of their big-name players to step up, and show why they earned their names. Captain Mikko Koivu will have to carry over his strong offensive game from the regular season, when he lead the club in scoring with 56 points. Veteran winger Jason Pominville brought to Minnesota ostensibly for his offense, will have to step up after a disappointing regular season where he scored just 11 goals and 36 points.
Coyle, Neiderreiter, Jason Zucker, Mikael Granlund, and Erik Haula will also have to continue to chip in, as well the blueline lead by Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba. Veteran centre Jarrett Stoll was acquired for his playoff experience and two-way play, he might not put up a lot of points, but could be key in helping to slow the Dallas offence, but must regain the form he had in Los Angeles’ cup years. It will take a team effort to make this Minnesota dream float in the land of 10,000 lakes.
Decision Needed in Stars Crease
A big part of success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs relies in a goalie that is able to play their best during this time of the year. The advantage, and maybe a minor problem for Dallas, is that they have two, as tandems provide a fall back option while rarely yielding results in the post-season.
Kari Lehtonen (25-10-2) and Antti Niemi (25-13-7) got as close to splitting time as possible, each of course earning 25 wins in a favorable season for the Stars.
The Stars seem to be leaning towards Lehtonen to start in the playoffs though, as he started 10 of the final 12 regular season games. The Finland native went 7-3 during that stretch as the Stars fought for first place without an inured Tyler Seguin. He may not be experienced in the playoffs, but Lehtonen is more than capable of doing the job. He put up a .906 save percentage this season.
Off nights do indeed happen, so having both goalies ready to go can be a tremendous advantage. The disadvantage comes if one or the other gets pulled in a game and loses some confidence during the key time of the season. It’s happened to both this season, but shouldn’t be too hard to get around.
Meanwhile the Wild will be going with Devan Dubnyk. He wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2014-15 when he was a Vezina trophy finalist, but Dubnyk still had 32 wins and a .918 save percentage this season. His backup, Darcy Kuemper had a .915 save percentage and has nine career games of playoff experience. Still, barring injury or total meltdown, the net is Dubnyk’s to mind.
The Minnesota Wild will have just too much to handle for this one. Without Vanek and Parise, Minnesota’s offensive spark will be lacking big time and the Stars will take advantage, just by out-scoring their opponents. Dallas will earn a big win or two by the end of the series and maybe either Lehtonen or Niemi has an off night.
The Stars win in five.
Here are other predictions from the LWOS Hockey department:
Ken Hill: Stars in 4.
Catherine Dore: Stars in 4.
Zachary DeVine: Stars in 4.
Connor Ferguson: Stars in 5.
Dave Gove: Stars in 5.
Nic Hendrickson: Stars in 5.
Ben Kerr: Stars in 5.
Mark Grainda: Stars in 6.
Cristiano Simonetta: Stars in 6.
Markus Meyer: Wild in 7.
Griffin Schroeder: Wild in 7.
Nick Di Giovanni: Wild in 7.