The Dallas Stars are on their way to the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs and a date with the mighty Colorado Avalanche. However, it certainly did not seem so when Game 6 began. The Stars went down 3-0 to the Calgary Flames, who scored three goals on their first seven shots against Anton Khudobin. In fact, the three Flames goals occurred before the Stars even had a shot on goal. It was all Flames early on, but then, things began to unravel.
Miro Heiskanen has Arrived as an Elite Playoff Performer
Simply put, Miro Heiskanen has arrived. The second-year defenseman started the comeback in Game 6 scoring a power-play goal to make the deficit two at the first intermission. He went on to net four points, something no Dallas Stars defenseman has ever done, not even Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov. You have to go all the way back to the 1981 Stanley Cup Final to find an equal in franchise history as the then-Minnesota North Stars’ defenseman Brad Maxwell accomplished the feat against the New York Islanders.
Heiskanen now has 12 points in 9 playoff games on the year, good for 1.33 points per game. Nine games isn’t exactly a large sample size, but his regular-season average over 150 games is 0.45. Per Dobber Hockey, his individual points percentage, the percentage of points that he registers when he is on the ice, was 48 percent during the regular season and now sits at 80 percent in the playoffs. That number should surely come down to around 50 percent. Even if you take away a couple of points, Heiskanen is still elevating his offensive game in the playoffs.
Milan Lucic Gave the Stars the Opportunities they Needed
Milan Lucic took a needless interference penalty when the Flames were absolutely mopping the floor with the Stars in the first period. The ensuing power-play goal got the Stars back into the game heading into the first intermission. Early in the second, Lucic again took an unprovoked penalty as he flipped a puck over the glass for delay of game.
Lucic had a decent playoffs, registering six points in nine games and registering 26 hits. He was able to be physical, while not crossing the line and cost his team, until Game 6. The Stars definitely needed a boost after coming out completely flat in the first period. Lucic’s transgressions opened the door wide-open for the comeback and the Stars drove their seven-goal parade right through.
Denis Gurianov Put the League on Notice
Denis Gurianov can score goals. In fact, he was the only Dallas Star to score at least 20 goals in the regular season. In Game 6, he scored four times, becoming the first rookie to do so in the playoffs since Tony Hrkac in 1988. Gurianov now has six goals in nine playoff games along with one assist.
It seems like Gurianov is all about the Cy Young, much preferring to score goals over playmaking and assists. He’s exactly what the Stars need: a finisher. He has the pedigree to suggest that this is just the beginning and with a strong supporting cast, he can push for 30-plus goals a year for a long time. Hopefully for the Stars, Gurianov continues to be an X-factor in a long playoff run.
Hintz, Gurianov, and Pavelski on Fire
Mattias Janmark was unfit to play this game so Gurianov and Joe Pavelski lined up with Roope Hintz instead. According to Charting Hockey the line of Janmark-Pavelski-Gurianov has the highest expected goals for percentage in the playoffs for the Stars and second overall.
It was a bit worrisome that Janmark was out, but luckily the combination of Hintz-Gurianov-Pavelski seemed to do about as well. Pavelski and Gurianov were first and second in individual expected goals in the game per Evolving Hockey at .69 and .47, respectively. The line combined for nine points and was a plus-seven so it worked out just fine, especially when considering Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov all went pointless.
Loss of Tkachuk Felt Dramatically
Matthew Tkachuk was deemed unfit to play in Game 6 and the Flames missed him tremendously. In key moments and momentum swings, players like Tkachuk seem to be able to get their team back on track. As the Stars comeback evolved and their lead widened, there was no answer by the Flames. Not only did the Flames fail to generate many chances, but their body language suggested they didn’t think they could come back, either.
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It must have been excruciating for Tkachuk to watch his team crumble under the pressure and have absolutely no answer for the Stars. It’s hard to imagine the outcome of this series wouldn’t have been different had Tkachuk been in the lineup. The Flames were 1-1 with him and 1-3 without him. While no series comes down to one player, Tkachuk was arguably the one player the Flames could not afford to lose.
Time to Prepare for a Monumental Upset
The Stars have to be feeling good after eliminating the Flames. Even though they were favored in the series, it was no guarantee, especially after being down twice in the series at 1-0 and 2-1. The Avalanche, though, are a completely different story with very few, if any weaknesses. Next to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Avs have been the best team in expected goal rates, which is a ratio of their expected goals against per 60 minutes against their expected goals for per 60 minutes.
The Avalanche don’t seem to expose themselves defensively in order to generate offense as much as the Stars do. This might be a major factor in the series. In defense of the Stars, they have been able to generate more offense than they did all season during these playoffs, but against an offensive juggernaut like the Avalanche, they will need to tighten up defensively much more than they have so far.
The odds are skewed strongly in favor of the Avalanche, however, I can see a path to victory for the Stars if they can maintain their scoring, while minimizing chances against. All-in-all, the Stars did exactly what they had to do in Round 1, got a bit lucky, and now can prove me wrong by beating the Avalanche.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife.