The 2023 NHL playoff has finally arrived. After months of hard-fought battles to make the postseason, we finally know the matchups. One of these is the central division matchup. The Stars vs Wild is a highly anticipated series. Two teams with a ton of interchanging history and rivalry. From the relocation of the North Stars from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993 to former players like Ryan Suter and John Klingberg, the series is littered with interesting storylines. This season the two teams have also been locked in a major battle for both home-ice advantage and the central division all season, and the question is whether or not the Stars can take advantage of their home ice against a hungry Minnesota Wild team.
Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild First-Round Preview
Defence is the best offence for the Wild
A key factor going into the Stars vs Wild series is defence. When you look at the two teams head-to-head, the Stars seem to have the advantage in the offensive areas. For that reason, a lot will be asked of the Wilds’s defence, who will have to find a way to stop the red-hot Dallas Stars. The Stars have won eight games out of their last ten, and players like Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz have been near unstoppable in April. One of the players who can provide defensive stability is Jonas Brodin. The 29-year-old Swede has once again proven to the expert and fans alike, that he is one of the best shutdown players in the entire NHL. The Wild will need him to stay this way to stop the onslaught of the Stars first line.
Along with Brodin, the defensive side of the puck is an area where the Wild overall seems to have the edge over the Stars. Wild Captain Jared Spurgeon and Jacob Middleton have been a great partnership in the regular season. So has Matt Dumba next to Brodin, and it will be interesting to see how the third pair will look. The options are there; one could be for the Wild to go with former Dallas Star defender John Klingberg and new arrival Brock Faber. A mix of young and old. Faber has looked brilliant in his first couple of NHL games. Klingberg on the other hand has been a bit underwhelming since joining the Wild. However together there is a chance that the offensive of Klingberg and the defensive abilities of Faber can work wonders for the Wild.
Can Oettinger Do it again for Dallas?
Another key part of the Stars vs Wild series will be the goaltending for both teams. For the Stars Jake Oettinger will try to repeat last year’s playoff performance. Against the Calgary Flames, he had a .954 save percentage and was one of the key reasons the series went to seven. In a series that easily could be just as close, Oettinger will be called on to make those key stops for the Stars. This season he has once kept the momentum going and ended the season with a shutout against the Blues. He finished the regular season with a .919 save percentage and 2.37 GAA. These numbers put Oettinger deservingly into the Vezina conversation.
Oettingers superb season does give the Stars an edge over the Wild, although it isn’t by as much as it seems. On the other end stands one of Marc-Andre Fleury or Filip Gustavsson. Both who has had strong seasons with the Wild since November. Especially Filip Gustavsson has been a revelation for Wild this season. Coming to the Wild during the off-season for Cam Talbot, most people weren’t expecting great things from the Swedish netminder. Most felt it was a downgrade from Talbot, but Gustavsson has proven every doubter wrong. In 39 games for the Wild, he has posted a .931 save percentage. An outrageous number that’s taken from a backup to a potential starter. Regardless the Wild has a one-two punch in net, and if one falters the other will be ready to take over. Making the play of Oettinger even more important for the Stars path to victory.
Key matchup: Kirill Kaprizov vs. Jason Robertson:
The most interesting part of the matchup will be the meeting of the Calder Trophy rivals from 2021. One team has the winner of that race, Kirill Kaprizov, and the other has the runner-up, Jason Robertson. Both are elite wingers in the NHL, and both with another blinding season. If you want to watch some of the most dynamic players in the NHL, go head-to-head look no further. Where Kaprizov over the first two seasons has had the edge over Robertson, this season has been different. Without losing any of his skills or having a worse season, the Russian superstar has been outshined by the American. Where Kaprizov scored 40 goals and 75 points in 67 games, Robertson hit 103 points and 46 points over the full 82-game season. An astonishing number and he has been the MVP for the Stars this season without question.
However, all that is the regular season, and in the past. Now it’s time for the playoff, and despite an exit in the first-round last season, Kaprizov showed he is a playoff performer. This needs to be something Robertson is able to match since the stars have to be the team’s best players. They have to take charge and be the x-factor for their respected team in both ends of the ice where their great skating should allow them to go end to end and create chances. Another question for this matchup will also be the health of Kaprizov, who missed a lot of games in the late part of the season. If he isn’t at 100% and Robertson is, the Stars should have the strength to run away with the series.
This is a hard series to call since both teams match each other evenly. On the one hand, the Stars have depth down the offensive lineup and have been in great form recently. On the other, the Wild has the better defense and has found their game after a turbulent start to the season. Each shift and stride can turn into the difference between victory and defeat in this series, and goaltending will become paramount. A position both have had as a strength this season.
All these points to a series where the winner is found in game six or seven. A series where a minor upset might occur with the Wild taking the series in seven games.
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