canada africa partner reservation How the Dallas Stars made progress in the playoffs and why they might advance

How the Dallas Stars made progress in the playoffs and why they might advance

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Now that the series between Dallas and Vegas is over, it’s time to file a complaint: This one should have been played in the second round. It’s always a bit of a shame that one elite team beats another so early.

However, the Stars will not apologize. With a 2-1 victory in Game 7 over the Golden Knights, they got some measure of revenge for last season’s loss in the Western Conference finals. They also came back from a 2-0 deficit for the first time in franchise history.

On to the next. The Stars face Colorado in a second-round series that, you think, could double as a conference final — and they have the mix needed to come out on top.

After a solid rookie season, Johnston looked his age against the Golden Knights last spring. Not only was he kept off the scoresheet in last year’s series, but Vegas defeated the Stars 5-0 and controlled the game when Johnston was on the ice.

Johnston bounced back with a breakthrough regular season performance. He has helped the Stars shed their top-heavy identity and bolstered their depth with reliable secondary scoring. In 82 regular-season games, he scored 65 points, mostly earned at five-on-five. The Stars were a better team in his minutes, thanks to his volume shooting and ability to drive straight into scoring areas even against top defenders. And this year, that difference-making play carried over into the play-offs.

After a solid start in Games 1 and 2, where he attempted 17 shots, 10 of which qualified as scoring opportunities per Natural Stat Trick, Johnston became the difference maker the Stars needed. Dallas defeated Vegas 30-15 with him on the ice. Fourteen of those tries came from Johnston’s stick, with two beating Logan Thompson in key moments: the opening goal of the match and the extra-time winner.

In Game 7, Johnston scored his third goal and seventh point of the series to get the Stars on the board. All told, he elevated Dallas during Round 1, earning nearly 69 percent of expected goals share while outscoring Vegas 5-3. At five-on-five, Johnston created 33 scoring chances, which leads all skaters through Round 1 – that’s 34 percent of what the Stars generated in his minutes, a lopsided 77-45 chances against Vegas.

An elite core is the key ingredient to creating a Stanley Cup. But a team needs a strong supporting cast and cost-effective contracts to balance out the more expensive contracts. Johnston is taking both and he’s just getting started.

Back in October, Jake Oettinger was one of the biggest reasons to believe in the Stars as real Cup contenders. What exactly were we supposed to dislike about that man? He was 24 years old and had continued to improve in each of his three NHL seasons. He had a stellar turn in the 2022 playoff loss to Calgary with a .919 save percentage and more than 21 goals above expectations, which put him eighth in the league in 2022-2023.

That’s part of what made his uneven regular-season performance so surprising; at some points he seemed like more of a reason to bet against the Stars than to bet on them. But after the trade deadline, he stepped up, posting a .924 save percentage and more than five goals above expectations. Like we said in our series preview, if Dallas could expect that from him in the playoffs, look out.

See, that’s what they have. Oettinger posted a .925 save percentage against Vegas. Of the fourteen goals he allowed, only ten came in the last six games. He showed a special knack for holding things together as the games progressed, stopping 21 of the 22 shots he faced in Game 7.

If he keeps that up, Oettinger won’t just give Dallas an edge over Colorado; he will give them an edge over most of their potential opponents.

Robertson and Hintz aren’t excelling…yet

Those middle six contributors for Dallas were retained in Round 1 because the top line hadn’t played up to their usual star potential.

Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski have set the bar high. There’s a reason they’ve been at the top of the Stars’ lineup for the past three and a half years. The line brings a little bit of everything between each player’s skills, allowing him or her to click.

That is not yet the case in the play-offs. Through seven games against the Golden Knights, that top line mustered just 41 percent of expected goal share and was outscored 1-0.

Robertson earned at least five points in Round 1, while Hintz is a bit of a red flag at just one point. But this is not the level the Stars can expect in the future. There are two things working in Dallas’ favor: It’s not like these players wither in a postseason environment and they’ve proven otherwise in recent seasons.

Moreover, the coaches know that other combinations are possible if necessary. Moving Johnston to the top line unlocked Roberston and Hintz in Game 1, while Pavelski worked with Jamie Benn and Johnston in Game 7. Dallas has a versatile lineup, so with the right adjustments the Stars should be able to better match up with Colorado’s best players. .

DeBoer’s rotation of five defensemen worked

Pete DeBoer’s record in Game 7 remains stellar, and one deployment decision stands out: limiting Nils Lundkvist’s minutes and rotating just five defensemen.

In Round 1, Lundkvist played only 31:42, or 4:31 average per match in all situations. In total, that’s only about four minutes more than Heiskanen’s average ice time of 27:26 over seven games.

And in Game 7 it was exactly clear Why the coaches felt they had to protect him. A costly mistake contributed to Brett Howden’s equalizer, which could have opened the door for Vegas to win this series.

While Lundkvist brings an element of skill to the Stars’ blue line, he has also been a liability at times — even in super-protected usage. That explains why he barely played in Game 7 (if at all after losing 0-2 in the series) and why the coaches will have to be extremely cautious against Colorado. The Avalanche have so much speed and skill that someone like Lundkvist could easily be exposed.

For now, the decision seems sensible. But the deeper the Stars go, the more they’ll have to share the burden of defense to keep some of their best players from burning out.

Well done, old boys

Are Benn and Tyler Seguin worth a combined hit of over $19 million? Not in 2024. However, both have found a way to contribute, and Dallas’ prospects would be a lot bleaker if they slowed down the entire operation.

They aren’t Dallas’ best skaters – that honor belongs to Heiskanen, Johnston and the top line. They are certainly not cost-effective either. Against Vegas, however, Benn was second on the Stars in all situations, scoring chances with 21, bringing a lot of physicality to proceedings. Seguin tied for fourth in total scoring chances with 16. On risky chances, only Johnston had more than his 11.

They are no longer what they used to be. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough to help. Considering how much Colorado gets from second-tier players like Valeri Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen, Dallas will need continued production from their vets.

(Photo: Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)