The Dallas Stars are now one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008 after their 5-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of their second-round series. Once again it was their offense and attention to detail that spurred them onto victory.
Dallas scored three times in the opening period, giving them a lead that the Avalanche could never recover from. The Stars power-play was white-hot, going 3-for-6 and they led the Avs in hits (47-36), blocked shots (22-10), and face-offs (51%-49%).
There was a lot to like in the Stars win, from the defensemen continuing to chip points in at a record-setting pace or the depth scoring that has been the difference in the series against the favored Avalanche. Here are our three takeaways from the first half of a back-to-back that has pushed the higher-seeded team to the brink of elimination.
1. Shooting Stars
Did you know that during the regular season Dallas only scored five or more goals five times in 69 games and only once over their final 46 regular-season games? In these playoffs, they’ve now done it six times in the past nine games. The Stars have done it three times in this second-round series and have a total of 19 goals in the first four games.
The secret to their success? Quick strike offense and goals in bunches. In this series, they have blitzed the Avalanche with, well an avalanche of goals at times.
During Game 2 it was four goals in a span of 9:20 during the second period. In Game 3, it was three goals in a span of 6:05 during the third period. In Game 4, they took firm control of the contest with three goals in a span of 4:27 in the first period and then scored twice in 32 seconds in the third period.
Game 3 could have been a gut-wrenching loss as they gave up goals to Colorado in quick succession (two in 1:52) after being 7:58 from taking a 3-0 series lead. But they came out of the gates flying and took control of the game from jump street.
The Avs may have outshot the Stars 37-29 in Game 4, but in addition to Dallas’ first-period, three-goal blitz, they held Colorado without a shot on goal for the first 18:26. That set the tone for the evening and the Avalanche had to play catch up all night long.
2. Perry a Pain and a Pest
Corey Perry’s ice-time total in Game 4 was 11:08, the least among all Stars’ forwards. Only four players in the game saw less ice-time (Taylor Fedun, Vladimir Namestinkov, Matt Nieto, Logan O’Connor), but it might be hard to argue that none of the other 35 skaters in the game had a bigger impact than Perry.
Of the six power plays that Dallas had, Perry, drew four of the penalties. This is nothing new, right? Perry has always been an antagonist during his lengthy career with the Anaheim Ducks and there are likely more than a few Stars fans that feel weird and dirty now that the professional pest is on their side.
“He’s a huge, huge part of our hockey club,” said interim head coach Rick Bowness when asked about Perry during his postgame availability. “Even when he’s missing some shifts because there are so many penalty kills, he says a lot of good things on the bench, he stays in the game. He gave us a lot of really good minutes tonight. That’s why we brought him in – for his experience and his calmness, and that’s what he’s given us.”
He’s living rent-free in the Avalanche players heads right now and you can bet that Dallas is feeling fortunate he’s on their side these days.
“He plays hard and he goes to the hard areas,” added Bowness of the 35-year-old Perry. “Usually when you go to the hard areas you’re going to be involved physically and involved in penalties one way or another. He’s fearless and he gets a lot of attention because of that. He doesn’t hesitate to get in there.”
3. Depth Scoring Crucial
This has been a series full of momentum swings and Game 4 was no different. But it wasn’t the big guns. Tyler Seguin was held pointless. Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, and Alexander Radulov had one point each.
Radek Faksa led the way with three points (1g-2a), giving him five points in the series and seven in these playoffs – or one more than his career total of six entering the 2020 postseason. He does a lot of the little things for Dallas and is a big part of the FCC line (Faksa-Cogliano-Comeau) that has been stifling the Avalanche and Flames top players this postseason. They have started just about every game and have been the tone-setters just about every night in this remarkable run the Stars are on.
“They do a great job. They love the role that they have with our hockey team,” said Bowness. “They know their role is to not only shut the opposition’s top line down and check them as best they can, but (also) to give us some momentum. They’re structured, sound, very consistent with what they do. They get it in and finish their hits, and don’t give up much on the rush. They give us a lot of quality minutes.”
Miro Heiskanen continues to blossom before our eyes and after his assist in Game 4 the 21-year-old has 16 points (3g-13a) in 13 games this postseason – the most ever by a defenseman in one postseason in franchise history; that is good enough to lead the Stars. He has an assist in every game this series, is riding a five-game point streak (1g-7a), has points in 10 of the 13 games in the 2020 Playoffs, and currently sits tied for third in the NHL in points behind only Nathan MacKinnon (21 points) and Elias Peterson (17 points). Not bad for the third overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Denis Gurianov is showing everyone that his team-leading 20 goals this past season was no fluke. He has eight goals in his first foray into NHL playoff hockey, which is currently second in the league (Vancouver’s Bo Horvat has nine). Four of those goals came in the Stars wild, bananapants 7-3 win in Game 6 of the opening round that sent the Calgary Flames home.
Gurianov’s Game 4 goal came as a result of a bad gaffe by Avs rookie defenseman Cale Makar but also turned out to be the game-winning goal after Colorado scored twice in the final eight minutes to make the score look respectable and misleading. The 23-year-old winger has been invaluable to this postseason run by the Stars.
A quick turnaround means that Game 5 is Monday night, Aug. 31, and Dallas punch their ticket to the West Finals with a win. If they cannot win, Game 6 will be Wednesday, Sept. 2 and if necessary, Game 7 would be Friday, Sept. 4.