There was a lot to like if you’re a Dallas Stars fan following their 5-3 triumph in Game 1 of their Round 2 series against the Colorado Avalanche. They once again were without goaltender Ben Bishop and defenseman Stephen Johns, both ruled unfit to play, but they weren’t needed in the series opener. Dallas had three, two-goals leads on the night, and by the end of the night, they had scored the most goals against Colorado in a game since bubble hockey began in late July.
As the “road team” they were able to control the game, almost from start to finish, and finished the game with the edge in nearly every statistical category. The Avs never had the lead in the game, and netminder Anton Khudobin turned aside 25 of the 28 shots he faced as he picked up his and his team’s fourth consecutive win.
Here are my three takeaways from what was a very encouraging victory for the men in green.
1. Avs Not Invincible
Heading into the series the Avalanche were the favorites, and rightfully so. A lot of people thought the Stars would be a mere speed bump on their way to the Western Conference Finals. They had just demolished the Arizona Coyotes in their opening-round series, winning the final two games by a combined score of 14-2. As the old ball coach Lee Corso likes to say: Not so fast!
The Stars scored two goals in the first 9:51 and scored five goals in the game, or three less than the Coyotes scored in the entire opening round. Three of their first four goals came as a direct result of Colorado turnovers. The Avs themselves were probably starting to believe that they were invincible, but that all came crashing back to earth in Game 1.
“Well, we didn’t like our start vs. Calgary in Game 6,” replied interim head coach Rick Bowness with a chuckle when asked what was the key to the fast start that saw them carry a 3-1 lead into the first intermission. “We challenged the guys before the game about that. Just come out of the gate a lot harder.”
“Let’s attack. That’s when we’re at our best. There’s a mentality that comes with that and give the players credit, they got themselves ready to do that.”
Yes, Nathan MacKinnon got his points – two goals, one assist, six shots on goal – but everyone else was kept pretty quiet on the night. He had six other shot attempts that were blocked, and Dallas finished the game with 21 blocked shots total.
The Stars were also very disciplined, having to kill off only one power-play against, which they will need more of as the series moves on. They also outhit the Avalanche 48-41 and you can bet that some of those hits will have an impact as the series evolves.
Colorado entered the series fairly healthy, maybe the healthiest team in the bubble. But they left Game 1 with defenseman Erik Johnson severely banged up (he left and came back to the game at least three times after a mid-first-period collision) and they also lost goaltender Philipp Grubauer with a left leg injury that did not look good at all. His availability for the remainder of the series is in serious doubt.
2. From Russia With Love
Alexander Radulov had himself ‘A Game’. He had the eventual game-winning goal, scored on both of his shots on goal, and finished the night with three points (2g-1a). His presence was felt nearly every time he was on the ice in Game 1, as was the presence of his linemates (more on them below).
After registering just three points in six games against Calgary in the first round, Radulov matched that output in the first two periods against Colorado. He is starting to look like the player who had ten points (5g-5a) in 13 playoff games last postseason again, which is just what the Stars will need to move past the Avs.
3. Big Guns Blazing
Dallas has now scored 19 goals over their past four games. They also have 26 over the last six games – which includes them getting shutout once by the Flames. During the season they were 26th (of 31 teams) in goals-per-game with 2.58.
The top line has awoken and Radulov, Jamie Benn (three assists), and Tyler Seguin (goal & assist) combined for eight points Game 1. This was after they combined for a grand total of zero points in the Stars’ seven-goal outburst in Game 6 against Calgary. The trio had ten points in that series.
“We know these guys are an elite hockey team with a lot of skill and some high-end players,” Benn said in his postgame availability. “We wanted to roll four lines early and get everyone in it. I thought we did that well tonight.”
“We’re well prepared, and a veteran group that can help each other out with the young guys. We’re a tight-knit group, which goes a long way,” he added.
The Dallas faithful are hoping that they do go a long way in these playoffs, and Game 1 was a big step in that direction. But there is more work to be done for sure.
Colorado’s big three of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen put up six points in the game but were never able to tie the game once Dallas took the lead for good when Blake Comeau scored 9:51 into the first period. Comeau, Seguin, and Roope Hintz all scored their first goals of this postseason in Game 1.
“It felt good,” Seguin replied when asked what it felt like to finally score his first goal of this postseason. “That was all my linemates. They were battling in the corner and I just try to find that soft area.”
His goal came after Radulov and Benn forced Grubauer into a sloppy pass behind the cage and Seguin was ready to pounce after having only three assists in the opening round.
On the backend, Miro Heiskanen continues to impress and added another assist to his team-leading 13 points (3g-10a), which is second in the NHL and also leads all defenseman in these playoffs. His ten assists are tied for the league-lead (with MacKinnon) and nine of his points have been at even strength, which is tied for second in the league (behind only MacKinnon). The only player left in the playoffs that averages more ice-time than Heiskanen (26:03) is Tampa Bay’s Ryan McDonagh (27:29) – who played a five-overtime game this postseason.
The young defender is growing before our eyes and is the eighth defenseman in NHL since 1989 to collect 13 points in his first 10 games of a single postseason. He needs just two more assists to tie the team record of assists in one playoff year: Craig Hartsburg (12 in 1981), Sergei Zubov (12 in 1999).
Game 2 will be Monday night, Game 3 is Wednesday night, and Game 4 will be on Friday night.