The Dallas Stars are moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoff. What a great central division series this was. This was the result of a brutal, physical, and intense series against the Minnesota Wild. It took six games but thanks to three wins in a row, they turned around a 2-1 series deficit, to win the series 4-2 and eliminated their central division rivals in the process. It was a series that had it all. From overtime drama, controversy, great goaltending from both teams and where the Stars were sharpest when it mattered.
Special Teams Made the Difference
The key to winning was laid out right away in the series. The team who would be able to have the better special team and play the more disciplined game was going to take the series. In game one three of the five goals came on the man advantage, which included both Star’s goals in the game. It became clear that the Stars powerplay was deadly with Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson at the core of it. This trend never faded and on top of the fact that the Wild couldn’t stay out of the box, a picture started to form. A great one for the Stars, and a devastating one for the Wild. This culminated in game 5, where Marcus Foligno after just two minutes got a five-minute major for kneeing on Radek Faksa. A penalty that gave the Stars a perfect start with a goal eight seconds later.
Another deciding part of the series was the mix of brilliant box play from the Stars and pathetic powerplay from the Wild. When the Wild needed a goal and got the chance on the man advantage, they were unable to create anything in the final three games. On 11 powerplay chances the wild only scored a single goal. A goal that came with an empty net down 3-1 in game four.
One of the reasons for the Wilds struggles in both special teams’ areas can be blamed on the loss of Joel Eriksson Ek. The lack of his presence on the powerplay in front of the net made it easy for the Stars to allow Jake Oettinger to always see the shots. Ek is also one of the Wilds main penalties killers and was missing his ability to block shots and get into passing lanes when shorthanded.
Game 4: The Chance Wasted for the Wild
A key chance in the central division series was in Game 4. The most critical game of the series came in game four. A game that was one of the best games of the playoff from a neutral standpoint. It had it all, with high drama and tension in all 60 minutes. The Wild had a chance to take a stranglehold of the series on home ice with a 3-1 lead and came out flying. They were all over the Stars, who were struggling in the opening half. The Wild had breakaways, one-timers, and a dangerous-looking powerplay. None would have said it was unjust if the Wild midway through the game was up by 3-0.
However, the score after 35 minutes of the game remained 0-0. The only reason for this was the splendid goaltending from Jake Oettinger. He made save after save after save and stunned the Wild numerous times. With the Wild unable to capitalize on their chances, the Stars found their way back into the game in the most predictable way imaginable. With a powerplay goal. However, the penalty that led to it was controversial. A huge but seemingly clean hit from Foligno was given to the frustration of the Wild and their fans.
The teams traded goals in the third period but best as the Wild was about to go for a late equalizer another controversial call was made. Once again it was Foligno who was punished for what many consider to be a clean hit. A tripping call was made despite no contact being made to the feet of the Stars player, leaving Foligno raging after the game. The following powerplay resulted in the game-winner by Tyler Seguin. Tying the series and stealing a game the Wild should have won. Something that proved to be a backbreaker of the Wild in the series.
The Stars from Texas Shine the Brightest
Game four might be remembered for the controversial penalties to Marcus Foligno, and the following consequence of those later, but in reality, it should be remembered for one thing only. The Jake Oettinger masterclass. The young Dallas Stars goalie, who is a Minnesota native, was incredible in the final three games of the series. In the last three games, he only allowed three goals. He was a major part of the Stars success, and it was never clearer when he robbed Marcus Johansson with ten seconds left of game 4. A shot that would have tied the game and forced overtime with the Wild having all the momentum.
This save turned the series around. As Oettinger was unbeatable, Filip Gustavsson, who had been great for the Wild in the first four games, suddenly became beatable. When the Stars needed goals, they got them from Tyler Seguin, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz. Goals from their best players who really stepped up in the series. They had star performances from their best players, and in the playoff, that is critical to have success!
On the other end of the ice, the Wilds stars faded and were invisible for most of the series. Kirill Kaprizov was held off the scoresheet pretty much all series. As was the case with Matt Boldy, who never found the form from March. Wild Captain Jared Spurgeon struggled all series and was on the ice for many of the goals against, and in the end without the best players stepping up the Wild deservingly lost the series.
How Far Can the Dallas Stars Go in the Stanley Cup Playoff?
The last question surrounding central division series left to answer is how much further the Stars are able to go. After their win against the Wild, they move on to play the Kraken in the second round in a series where they are more than capable of bringing the fight. This comes down to two factors. The first is the way the special teams were clicking against the Wild. If they can keep that up, where they win the battle of the special teams, they are a dangerous team for any team in the postseason. The further you get in the postseason, the more important it gets to take the chances given. Often the best chance you get in the later rounds of the Stanley Cup playoff is on the man advantage. An area where the Stars are the sharpest team left.
The other factor that indicates that the Stars can go far, is Jake Oettinger. He might only have two series of playoff experience, but in both, he has played like the best goalie in the league. Especially after a loss, he has shown brilliant bounce-back ability. A mental ability that points towards him staying red hot and poised throughout the playoff.
Combine the two and the Stars are a team to take seriously by any team in the league. Their limitations are in the defensive depth, and they can get caught flatfooted. Something that a more effective team than the Wild might take advantage of. However, regardless of whom they face in the western conference, they must be considered a contender to appear in the Stanley Cup Finals.
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