Playoff Series Preview: Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames

The postseason returns to Dallas as the Stars take on the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs! Here is everything you need to know ahead of this Western Conference first-round matchup. 

Stars vs Flames: How They Got Here 

The Calgary Flames finished the regular season with a 50-21-11 record and 111 points, good enough for the top seed in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference. Under legendary coach Darryl Sutter, they have an excellent top line, a Vezina candidate goaltender, and a load of depth that has helped them throughout the year. Calgary finished the season on a 6-2-2 run. 

The Dallas Stars’ season was filled with far more drama as they bounced between both wild cards and the outside looking in until the final days and finished with a 46-30-6 record and 98 points (the 2nd best season in the last 15 years). On the last day of the season, the Stars beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 on an odd night that saw an Emergency Backup Goalie take the ice for the Ducks. Then, the Arizona Coyotes overcame an early 4-0 deficit to defeat the Nashville Predators in regulation, meaning that Dallas finished 7th and the Preds held down the 8th and final spot in the playoffs. 

Related: 3 Reasons the Dallas Stars Made the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs 

The Stars had had an inconsistent season led by their talented top line and a host of experienced leaders throughout the lineup. They finished the regular season on a 5-3-2 run. 

“We all say it, and I’ve personally said it too,” forward Tyler Seguin said of the typical mantra of hockey players. “But you look at the last time we were in the bubble, and we did flip a switch. The round-robin games were awful and then the playoffs started, so we’re looking to do that.”

Top Lines Battle For Dallas-Calgary 

This is one of the more intriguing matchups across the league as two of the most elite top lines go head-to-head. For Calgary, the line of Johhny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk has been outstanding. Gaudreau finished second in NHL scoring with 115 points (4G, 75A) in 82 games, while Matthew Tkachuk (42G, 6A, 104 points) and Elias Lindholm (4G, 4A, 82 points) posted career seasons. This trio has absolutely dominated play with 3.36 expected goals per 60 minutes and a handful of stats that are hard to beat. Can Gaudreau continue to be hot in the playoffs? Will Tkachuk find the balance of grit and skill?

The Stars top line has been equally impressive, especially since they have been carrying their team for the entire season. The trio of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson has accounted for nearly 46% of the total points, which is the most in the league and the most in franchise history. Pavelski joined a shortlist of players to hit 80 points over the age of 37 when he recorded a career-high 81 points (27G, 54A), Hintz recorded his highest total with 72 points (37G, 35A) in 80 games, and Robertson became just the fourth player since the Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 (Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin) to reach the 40-goal mark (41G, 38A). 

“I scored that goal against Vegas taking it to the middle of the ice and stick-handling,” Robertson said. “I did that a lot in Juniors, and I still haven’t done that a lot (in the NHL) attacking the middle of the ice using my feet. That just comes with confidence. This still is my first full year, so I’m still trying to get the hang of everything.”

These two lines may very well be matched up head-to-head as both believe that their version is better. If this is the matchup, Roope Hintz will be the key for the Stars as he has developed into their best two-way forward. Whichever line forces the other to defend is likely going to have the bigger impact on the game. 

“Roope, he’s the guy right now, he’s our best forward on both ends of the ice,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “When he’s on, he’s tough to stop. You talk about [Colorado’s Nathan] Mackinnon and [Edmonton’s Connor] McDavid, they’re elite, but you get Roope going and he’s as fast as any of them, he’s as powerful as any of them and he’s as exciting to watch as any of them.”

Winner: Tie 

Stars vs Flames Depth Scoring 

This comparison is far more simple. The Flames have an extraordinary amount of depth and the Stars do not. Behind the top line, Calgary has a handful of players that have produced this season including Andrew Mangiapane, Blake Coleman, Dillon Dube, Noah Hanifin, and Mikael Backlund. Each of these players has recorded 32 points or more and that does not include Tyler Toffoli, who tallied 11 goals and 23 points in just 37 games since joining the team. 

For Dallas, you have the usual suspects in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but that is where the list stops. Among the next eight scorers below the top line, four of them are defensemen. Seguin has been slowly improving from offseason surgeries and looks more like himself right now (he finished the season with 49 points (24G, 25A), but was a far more productive player in the second half (37 of 49 points came since January).

Tyler Seguin Dallas Stars-Playoff Series Preview: Dallas Stars (WC1) vs Calgary Flames (P1)
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Benn has continued his offensive decline but has chipped in at some big times and finished with 46 points (18G, 28A). It has been a very disappointing season for a handful of Stars forwards including Alexander Radulov, Denis Gurianov, Joel Kiviranta, and Radek Faksa, so the scoring has been tough to come by for Dallas. 

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in this group when it comes to meaningful games and tough opponents,” Seguin said. “It’s more the lower seeds we have trouble with. We’re excited for this opportunity.”

Winner: Flames 

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X-Factor: Stars

With the lack of production below the top line, just about every Stars player could be listed as an X-factor in this series. Still, I believe that Miro Heiskanen holds the key to their success. In 2020, the young defenseman recorded 24 points in 27 games, helping Dallas to the Stanley Cup Final. While he has not been anywhere near that production since, he still remains one of the best young defensemen in the game and seems ready to break out offensively. He has also proven to play his best hockey when the pressure is on and the spotlight will certainly be shining down on him as he will play up around 28-30 minutes per game in this series. 

X-Factor: Flames 

While Jacob Markstrom has proven his talent and is not really an X-factor, I am going to list him as such in this first round series. Before his Vezina-caliber 2021-22 season, Markstrom has flown a bit under the radar playing for teams that did not defend all that well (Calgary, Vancouver, and Florida). However, his career numbers show that he belongs among the NHL elite (.912 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average). 

This season, he has been even better, posting a .922 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against, which rank him in the top-four in both categories. His only flaw, he has only played in one playoff year his entire career, coming in the 2020 bubble where he took an overmatched Vancouver team into the second round and posted some pretty good numbers. If he can continue to play the way he has this season, Dallas may simply not have an answer. If he struggles under the pressure, this series becomes wide open. 

Stars vs Flames Series Prediction 

The Stars are a classic underdog and have thrived in that position in recent history. They took down three better opponents (Calgary, Colorado, and Vegas) in the 2020 bubble before falling in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Final. However, they have a seemingly long list of things they need to happen in order for them to win this series. If they can get the better of the top line, goaltending, and special teams matchups and also have one or two forwards really step up their offense, they have a shot. Unfortunately, Calgary simply needs to continue doing what they have all season to overmatch this Dallas team.

Winner: Calgary in 6 

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