Stars’ Lack of Offense Bodes Well for Flames’ First-Round Success

In the NHL playoffs, anything can happen. There are the favorites, but plenty of times, an underdog has shocked the world and go on a run. The Montreal Canadiens last season not only shocked the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round but went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

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With all that being said, the Calgary Flames are heavy, heavy favorites heading into their first-round series against the Dallas Stars. The argument could be made, in fact, that aside from the Colorado Avalanche, they have the best chance of advancing to the second round. Here are a few factors that support that theory.

Flames Have Far More Offensive Threats

With the way the Flames’ top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm has been playing all season long, the team has been an offensive threat since the start of 2021-22. Their solid roster became even more potent after general manager Brad Treliving made a move to acquire Tyler Toffoli from the Canadiens and followed that up weeks later by adding a player who can provide secondary scoring in Calle Jarnkrok.

There is a serious argument to be made that the Flames have the top line in all of hockey right now, but it is not their only dangerous one. On the second line, they have Toffoli and Andrew Mangiapane, who put up a career-high 35 goals this season. Centring them is Mikael Backlund, who provides some secondary scoring himself while also playing a sound defensive game.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames’ third line is also capable of putting the puck in the net, with Jarnkrok centring two-time Stanley Cup winner Blake Coleman, as well as Dillon Dube. Coleman is a proven playoff asset, with 24 points in 48 playoff games during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Dube enters the postseason playing the best hockey of his NHL career, with nine goals and 11 points over the past 15 games.

As for the Stars, they go as their top line goes. Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski were all fantastic this season, combining for 44 percent of their team’s goals. After those three, there wasn’t a ton of scoring in Dallas, who finished 21st in the league with just 238 goals.

Tyler Seguin is still trying to find his groove after undergoing hip surgery back in November 2020, while Jamie Benn is no longer the game-changing power forward he once was. Then there is Alexander Radulov, who not long ago was one of the key contributors to the Stars’ offence. There is always the chance he will dip into the fountain of youth, but his four goals on the season suggest he won’t have a major impact in this series.

Markstrom the Superior of Goaltenders

After a rough debut in 2020-21 with the Flames, Jacob Markstrom has proven this season why the Flames chose to give him a six-year, $36 million deal in 2020. Not only did he record a sparkling 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .922 save percentage (SV%), but he led all netminders with nine shutouts. Most agree that he will be named one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy.

As far as playoff experience goes, Markstrom doesn’t have a ton, appearing in just 14 games, all of which came with the Vancouver Canucks in 2020. He performed very well in that showing, however, posting a 2.85 GAA and a .919 SV% along with an 8-6-0 record.

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At the other end is Jake Oettinger, who began the season in the American Hockey League but was called up after just ten starts. The 2017 first-round pick (26 overall) has tons of potential to become an elite goaltender down the road and had a very solid season for the Stars with a 2.53 GAA and a .914 SV% in 48 games. With that being said, he has yet to start a game in the NHL playoffs and is not yet a top-tier goalie like Markstrom.

Flames Team Game Amongst Leagues Best

As good as some of the Flames’ top stars were offensively this season, the argument could be made that they were just as good, if not even better, in their own end. Head coach Darryl Sutter has come in and completely changed the way some of these long-time Flames forwards play the game, the best example being Gaudreau.

While his offensive game has taken off under Sutter, the even more impressive change has been his attention to detail in the defensive zone. Earlier this season, Sutter raved about the 28-year-old, calling him one of the game’s best 200-foot players. The stats back that up, as his plus-64 rating marks the best the game has seen since Wayne Gretzky’s plus-70 in 1986-87. The Flames finished the season with a +85 goal differential, thanks in large part to the systems implemented by their head coach.

Darryl Sutter Calgary Flames
Darryl Sutter, head coach of the Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The same cannot be said about the Stars. They enter the playoffs as the only team with a negative goal differential on the season at -3. Outside of their dangerous top line, this is a team that gives up a lot more than they produce, which is something many expect the Flames to take advantage of in this series.

Flames Should Advance with Relative Ease

As mentioned above, the playoffs are unpredictable; anything can happen in a seven-game series. Having said that, if the Flames can keep playing the same way we saw all season, there is little reason to doubt that they will be able to knock off the Stars and advance to the second round. After all, they are playing a team that struggled to put the puck in the net, while their goaltenders – Markstrom and Dan Vladar – allowed a minuscule 206 goals this year, ranked third amongst all goaltending duos.

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