After surviving a six game white knuckle ride vs. Minnesota, the Stars are on to the second round. Now they get the pleasure of facing either a dynasty or the only head coach to bring a Cup to Dallas.
Careful what you wish for, right? Well, we can thank the NHL’s flawed playoff seeding system (which was changed going into the 2013-14 season) for this one. Ultimately, Stars fans are left with the defending Stanley Cup Champs or a St. Louis Blues team that finished just two points behind Dallas in the standings.
I’m not suggesting either of the remaining Western Conference teams (San Jose and Anaheim) would be a picnic. Anaheim’s 103 points tied Chicago and San Jose was no slouch at 98 points. However, Chicago (3rd in the West) and St. Louis (2nd in the West) should not have been a first round matchup.
Stars’ Regular Season Results vs. Opponents
The Stars were 1-2 vs. St. Louis and 3-0 vs. Chicago. The Stars outscored Chicago 15-6. They also outscored St. Louis 9-6. One of the oldest adages in gambling is never bet against a streak. Using that logic you can’t go wrong either way as the Stars won their last game against the Blues 3-0 on December 27th. However, the three game winning streak against the Blackhawks is more impressive. This could become a mental challenge for the Blackhawks. Especially if they were to lose the first couple of games.
Patrick Sharp/Johnny Oduya/Stephen Johns
While they never say it publicly, players inherently have extra motivation playing against their former team. Especially when the team didn’t want them back. Sure the Blackhawks had major cap problems but still they chose to trade Patrick Sharp along with Stephen Johns. Sharp was a huge contributor to the Blackhawks’ three Cups. Meanwhile Johns never got a chance to play with the big club. Instead, he played for their AHL affiliate Rockford. Oduya chose Dallas as a free agent. However, again the Blackhawks let him walk. Lastly, none of the players the Blackhawks got back from Dallas are with Chicago any longer. Both Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt were moved out of Chicago after a short stay.
St.Louis HC Ken Hitchcock Factor
Ken Hitchcock coached the Stars to their only Cup championship. He defeated then Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff in the finals. While a lot a has changed since 1999, NHL coaches rarely change from their fundamental belief in a system. There are no holdovers from the Hitchcock era on the Stars’ current roster. The team has changed ownership a few times along with their logo and colors, but Hitchcock has had success against Dallas. Lastly, unwanted coaches, like unwanted players, also take a little extra joy in beating their former organization.
Tired Team vs. Desperate Team
Chicago has played a ton of hockey the past few seasons. Eventually it catches up with you. See the Stars of 2001. Part of me thinks Patrick Kane, the actor we see in the World Cup of Hockey commercial, is miserable because he knows he has more hockey coming in September. St. Louis on the other hand is desperate. Jobs are on the line, starting with Hitchcock. They have become regular season darlings who self-destruct come playoff time. Slaying Chicago would get the proverbial monkey off their back and who knows where it ends from there.