The Stars are right in the thick of things and find themselves battling with the St. Louis Blues for 3rd place in the Central division. 3rd place means a 1st round date with the Nashville Predators, in all likelihood, while the wild card spots earn a match up with either the Calgary Flames or the Winnipeg Jets.
There is no easy out no matter who the Stars match up with in the first round, assuming of course they make it to the playoffs. But a fair question to ask is, who would the Stars match up best against in the playoffs? Let us examine the pros and cons of the Stars potential opponents.
Currently the Stars sit in the first wildcard position which means if the playoffs started today, they would get to match up with the always tough Winnipeg Jets. In the three match ups so far this season the home team has won. The scorelines of the last two match-ups don’t quite tell the whole story. While the game in Winnipeg ended with a lopsided victory in favor of the Jets, the Stars were in the game leading up to the 3rd period where it all fell apart. Unlike previous seasons, the Stars have proven they can play and hang with these Jets. Patrik Laine is having a down year by his lofty standards, only posting 48 points on the season, but also a minus 21. Even better news for the Stars, in the three games so far he has played against Dallas, he has only tallied one assist with no goals. If Dallas matches up against Winnipeg, their stellar defense will be the key in keeping Laine in check.
Overall, you have to feel like the Stars match-up well with the Jets due to their style of play being about speed and not necessarily playing a physical game. The Stars defense and style can shut down that offensive game by using their physicality to slow down the Jets offensive attack. The scariest thing about playing Winnipeg in the first round is having to travel to play potentially 4 games on the road in an incredibly hostile environment. Scary, but doable for this Stars team if they can play their style and execute to their ability. The ultimate key will be winning the 3rd period, which is where their loss in Winnipeg happened.
All 5 games of the season have been tight, close games that realistically one could argue the Stars should have swept. Takeaway some flukey goals from the Preds, the Stars win all 5 games and would be fighting for 2nd place in the division. Alas, that is not how hockey works unfortunately. Puck luck is part of the game. Despite the competitiveness of the games against Nashville, there has to be a feeling of worry about matching up with Nashville in the first round. The speed and strength of Nashville, especially over a 7 game series, has the feeling that it would wear down Dallas and make securing four victories a tall order. The goaltending of Dobby and Bishop though definitely gives the Stars a chance, especially given the way Anton has played against the Preds this season.
If the Stars manage to surpass the Blues and take 3rd, fans would be in for a stressful, but fun playoff series. Dallas certainly would have to feel like they would have a good odds against the Predators given their play this season. Puck luck is a thing and it has not been a thing the Stars have had against the Predators this season, but perhaps not sweeping the season series could work in the Stars favor as it is difficult to beat the same team 9 times in one season.
If the Stars fall into the second wild card spot, they would have to play Calgary in the first round. The Stars currently lead their season series with the Flames 2-0. The Flames should not be a surprise to anyone given the talent up and down, but it certainly feels like they are not talked about enough. They currently lead the Western Conference in points and score goals in bunches. Their top line Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan is something fierce. The Flames though playoff experience is lacking which could provide Dallas an advantage. The speed of the Flames is their best tool, but the physical style the Stars are capable of using can help neutralize that and keep the flames pinned to the perimeter limiting their quality scoring chances.
While fans would have to feel good about how the Stars match-up against the Flames, it would certainly feel like they would not be heading into the playoffs with momentum as it would mean Arizona would have managed to pass them in the standings suggesting the Stars let points slip away. Confidence and positive feelings will be crucial for this team to have success into April. When that wanes, this team wanes so playing the Flames is not ideal for the Stars.
No matter who Dallas gets matched up with in the first round there will be no easy out. Winnipeg right now seems like the most likely match-up for Dallas given the standings and given the Stars ability to compete and push the Jets around, they should feel good about their chances against Winnipeg. The popular choice is probably Nashville due to the Stars playing incredibly well against the Preds and the possibility of riding Khudobin to a win on the road in Nashville that potentially clinches the series.
If and when the Stars make the playoffs, the important thing is to cherish and enjoy it while it lasts. It would be nice to have playoff hockey back in Dallas and maybe grow the game and fan.
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