The Dallas Stars have passed the first test. After opening their series against the Minnesota Wild with a dominant 4-0 win, the Stars followed it up with a grinding 2-1 victory on Saturday night. Game 2 was more of a nail-biter, particularly in the final minute, but thank you Kari Lehtonen.
Now with a 2-0 series lead, the Stars look to break serve in Minnesota. The home fans will be a little more amped up than usual at the Xcel Energy Center. In 1993 Minnesota North Stars’ owner Norm Green broke their hearts by moving the team to Dallas. This is the first ever playoff meeting between the two teams.
Here what the team has to do to keep their momentum going:
Stars 5 Most Important Keys
Kari Lehtonen: Count me among those who were surprised by head coach Lindy Ruff’s decision to open with Lehtonen as the playoff starter. True, he ended the season on fire (8-1-0 .935 save percentage), but Antti Niemi also closed out the regular season strong and has proven playoff pedigree. In hindsight, Niemi has been better relieving Lehtonen than vice versa, so all the more reason to start Lehtonen. Through two games Lehtonen hasn’t been bombarded with shots (48), but he has stopped almost everything (minus Marco Scandella’s power play goal on Saturday) that the Wild have thrown his way.
Special Teams– The Wild were 0 for 7 on the power play before Scandella found the back of the net late in Game 2. Meanwhile, the Stars have gone just 1 for 11 on the power play. Minnesota has struggled all year on the PK. Saturday night the Stars power play sputtered and it needs to get on track in Minnesota. Having a game under his belt to shake off the rust should help Tyler Seguin as the series moves on. Since the power play pendulum tends to follow the home team, the Stars must bury their opportunities.
Continue Taming Wild Fowards– Late season injuries to Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek created two huge holes for the Wild offensively. Parise is the heartbeat of the Wild and led the team in goals with 25. Vanek is the ultimate enigma but is also a natural goal scorer (254 career goals) on a team starved for goals. The Wild had just 216 total regular season tallies.
The Wild do have some talented young forwards in Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund. The Stars must stay disciplined and not allow one of them to burst onto the scene. Veterans Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville are also both capable scorers. Don’t let one of them get hot now.
Roussel-Faksa-Hemsky line– Controversial goal aside, Antoine Roussel has been at his best down the stretch and through the first two games of this series. He has been relentless on the puck while looking at every opportunity to get under the skin of the Wild. He plays his game on the edge, and with the series moving to Minnesota the referees might be a little quicker to whistle Roussel. On the other hand, if he can continue to walk the line, he might just frustrate the Wild out of their own barn. Meanwhile, Radek Faksa is having quite a coming out party. He has earned Ruff’s trust as a shutdown center. The streaky Ales Hemsky has also been playing with renewed energy alongside his younger Czech countryman.
How much faith does Lindy Ruff have in Radek Faksa? He has him taking a D zone draw w/5.7 seconds left in a 1-goal game. And, he won it!
— E.J. Hradek (@EJHradek_NHL) April 17, 2016
Continue Scoring First– During the regular season, the Wild had just three wins when trailing after one period (tied for last in the NHL). When trailing after two periods they only had two wins. The only team worse was Toronto, who had zero wins when trailing after two periods. Those results were mostly with Parise and Vanek in the lineup. You have to imagine the mental hurdle will be daunting if the Stars can jump out to a lead Monday night.