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The Central Division Classic Is Living up to the Hype

The Stanley Cup playoff has begun with a bang. With comebacks, overtime drama, and heartbreaks galore all series are off to a flying start. One of these is the central division classic between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild. Three games into it and what many thought to be one of the most interesting hasn’t disappointed. It’s been as intense, physical, and dramatic as one might expect. A rivalry born with the relocation of the North Stars to Dallas that’s writing a new chapter. A chapter that sparks new life to the rivalry between Stars vs Wild.

Stars vs Wild Series So Far

Stars vs Wild has been a great one. The series began with a late-night drama that would rival that of any episode of The Last of Us. Within the first 40 min, the foundation was established that this would be a series of goaltending, discipline, and intensity. The Wild grabbed a lead before the first intermission by Kirill Kaprizov. Dallas went on to respond in the second. Ryan Suter became a thorn in the Wilds’ side with numerous cross-checks to Kaprizov, and offensively the Star’s powerplay took over. Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson made it 2-1 on the man advantage before Sam Steels tied the game up.

The game also saw Matt Dumba making a very controversial hit on Joe Pavelski that would force the veteran out of game one. In addition, he is out until at least game four. A hit that would set the tone for the series on and off the ice. Eventually, the game had to be decided in overtime. Due to some fantastic saves from Jake Oettinger and Filip Gustavsson, a major block by rookie and playoff debutant Brock Faber overtime went on for 32 minutes. In the end, the Wild won thanks to a Ryan Hartman goal.

Game two was a major response by the Stars who dominated the Wild from start to finish. With an effective special team, they easily won 7-3. A perfect game by the Stars, who saw Roope Hintz score a hat trick in a game where he took full advantage of the Wilds blunders. This meant the lead was to play for in the first game in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here it was a complete 180 to game two. The Wild were dominant and deservingly won comfortably to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Wild Are Ridding the Gus Bus

One of the stories during the Stars vs Wild series has been the goaltending dilemma or drama of the Minnesota Wild. In game one it was Filip Gustavsson who got the start. During the game he made a franchise-setting 51 saves. In other words, he was one of the main reasons the Wild won the game. Therefore, it was a major surprise that Wild head coach Dean Evason gave the start for game two to Marc-Andre Fleury. The reason was that they had been rotating the two goalies going into the playoff and there was no reason to stop that in the playoff as well.

The Puzzling Change

However, in game two the Stars caught the Wild flatfooted from the get-go and never recovered. It was a disaster up and down the lineup and after it was all done, the Wild left the ice of American Airlines Center, with a stinging 7-3 loss, and all the momentum from game 1 was gone. The loss wasn’t on Fleury alone, but the Wild lacked some saves in key moments of the game to keep them in striking distance. However, with how much the Stars outperformed the Wild, it’s highly unlikely that even a strong performance from Gustavsson could have made a huge difference in the game.

Game three was the Wilds from start to finish. Once more it was with Gustavsson in the net, who was solid as can be. While not as pressured as in game one, Gustavsson kept calm in key moments. One of the key lessons from the first three games to Dean Evason has to have been that his starting goalie for the rest of the playoff is Swedish. For the Wild to succeed in the playoff they have to keep riding the Gus Bus, as the Swedish goaltender is being nicknamed by Wild supporters.

Dallas Stars Superb Special Teams

For the Stars, the recipe for success in this series has been simple. Take advantage of the Wilds inability to stay out of the boxes. Special teams have been a lethal weapon in this series for the Stars. Their key players has shined the brightest in the series, outclassing those of the Wilds top lines. Out of their ten goals, six of them have been scored on the special teams. One shorthanded and five on the man advantage. This has been huge for the Stars, and especially in game two, they were all over the Wild. They kept getting under the Wild player’s skin and forced them to lose their discipline consistently.

The great efficiency of the powerplay has also allowed the Stars to get goals from all the right players. Before the series, a lot of eyes were on the duel between Jason Robertson and Kirill Kaprizov, and so far it’s been the American who has come out on top. Kaprizov has shown in flashes what he can do, but Jason Robertson is a danger every time he is on the ice, especially when the Stars are on the powerplay. Along with Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen, they have been punishing the sixth most penalized team in the NHL on multiple occasions. With a series this close and with goals so hard to come by, the special teams of both teams will become a vital part of the success. Therefore, the Stars need to keep this up in order to make it past the Wild.

Main Photo: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports


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