The Stars playoff position is secured. Their first round matchup is officially set against the Nashville Predators. A 3-0 demolition of the Minnesota Wild is a great way to end the regular season, especially when it comes with both Tyler’s scoring all 3 goals.
Even with the good vibes and the Stars finally being healthy, questions remain entering the start of the postseason. The Dallas Stars have the potential to be that sneaky team who got hot at the right time of the year and makes a deep playoff run. A first-round date with Nashville is far from ideal unless you are the NHL, but the Stars can always rely on their goaltending and their defense to carry them through. Heading into Game 1 in Nashville, there are some interesting questions for fans to keep their eyes on.
What Will Monty Do With His Lines?
A question all season will once again pop up heading into Game 1. Benn, Seguin, Radulov, Hintz, Zuccarello, Dickinson, Faksa, Comeau, Cogliano, Janmark, and Pitlick all feel to be locked in the lineup, barring injury. The last spot in the lineup for Game 1 will come down to most likely Justin Dowling or Jason Spezza. Nichushkin and Ritchie are theoretically in play depending on how Monty and the Stars want to attack the Preds. Spezza offers more versatility in his ability to take and win face-offs and also the advantage of being able to play out on the wing. Another thing to watch is does Monty put Benn, Seguin, and Radulov together to start Game 1 or does he save that for later in the game to force Nashville to adjust on the fly? Going to that line later in the game has been a recent formula for success. Jamie starting the game playing with Hintz and Pitlick would be a good way to help them feel their way into the game given their lack of playoff experience. Surviving the first 5 minutes of the first period in Nashville will be critical for Dallas to succeed in this series.
This is a good problem to have for the Dallas Stars when your biggest lineup problem comes down to a 12th skater to put out on the ice. This team has gotten some much-needed depth both from the forwards and the defensemen. The top 4 defensemen are a lock in Heiskanen, Klingberg, Lindell, and Polak. Taylor Fedun has played well enough to deserve a spot in the lineup until proven otherwise. Monty will have a choice to make between Oleksiak and Lovejoy (Sorry Honka).
How Monty will choose to arrange his lines and who the healthy scratches are will go a long way to inform fans what the plan to take down Nashville will be. The line match-ups and trying to keep Radulov and Seguin, two of the hottest goal scorers for Dallas right now, away from the top defensive line of the Predators is going to be an interesting chess match and one that will be important for the Stars to win.
Who Starts In Net?
Anton Khudobin has had success against the Predators this season as the Stars only fell to the Preds one time in regulation. While the Stars did drop 3 of 5 games against Nashville, Khudobin played in 4 of the 5 games, sporting a 2-2 record. Bishop lost in the only game he played against Nashville, but that game comes with a serious asterisk as the Stars were forced to play 3 AHL defenseman, Honka, Lindell, and Miro. Despite an overtime loss, it was a really good effort by the Stars and proved they were capable of playing with Nashville. Bishop has been strong all season long and was strong Saturday night against Minnesota. Do you ride the hot hand or do you go with the guy who has played well in 4 games against the Predators?
General managers are of the opinion if you are paying a player 6 million dollars a year, he better play come playoff time. Most likely, Monty will start Bishop in Game 1 in hopes of stealing the first game of the series and seize early momentum from Nashville. Game 2 is really where we will see how creative Dallas wants to get with their strategy. If Dallas manages to steal Game 1, starting Dobby in the stadium where he posted a record-setting 49 save shutout to steal a second game is a bold, but good strategy. It would allow Bishop to have 5 days in between starts which should allow him to stay fresh and healthy. Once the first domino falls, the rest will begin to fall into place.
Game 1 is often viewed as the most crucial game in a series. It is the game where the road team can often steal a game in order to set themselves up well for the rest of the series or where the home team can come out and set the tone early to seize early momentum. Dallas will need to get out to a good start in hopes of taking the crowd out of it at Bridgestone Arena and the decisions Monty makes will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game.
The lineup decisions will either be praised or crucified by fans depending on how the series ends up. The questions entering Round 1 are large in nature, but the Stars have the talent and chemistry to make some noise and move on to the second round.
Featured Image: Schuyler Dixon, Ap Sports Writer, The Intelligencer; Photo: LM Otero, AP