The Dallas Stars locked up a spot in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs by earning one point against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday night. Then, after a shocking night that featured a Stars win in an ‘Emergency Backup Goalie’ situation and a four-goal comeback from the same Coyotes against Nashville, the Stars found themselves in the 7th seed preparing to take on the Calgary Flames.
Let’s look at how they got in.
Stars Top Line
The Stars top line of Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, and Jason Robertson has scored over 45% of the team’s goals this season. I will wait while you go ahead and read that line again. Yes, it is an astonishing number and shows just how valuable they have been to the success of Dallas this season. Robertson leads all Stars with 41 goals (79 points) while Pavelski holds the lead with a career-high 81 points (27 goals, 54 assists), and Hintz sits just below them (37 goals, 72 points), with a total of 232 points in 82 games. The trio got off to a bit of a slow start early in the season but once they found their stride, there was absolutely no stopping them.
“There’s good chemistry with that line and they’re all good with the puck,” head coach Rick Bowness said. “They’re very at good reading off each other. That line feels good right now and there’s the chemistry that they had last year.”
The Stars have had an inconsistency issue throughout the season. While goaltending is no different in that sense, it is a very different outlook. After the up and down of Anton Khudobin (waived and season-ending injury), Ben Bishop (retired), and Braden Holtby (Injured since January), Dallas found their groove with the combination of Jake Oettinger and Scott Wedgewood. Oettinger began the season in the AHL but once he came up, he was the team’s starting goaltender without question.
“Jake wants the ball. He wants to run with it,” Bowness said. “You’ve got to love that about him. If you asked him to go to practice tomorrow for an hour [after back-to-back starts], he’d be the first guy on the ice.”
Oettinger has had an excellent season overall. The 23-year-old holds a 30-15-1 record with a .914 save percentage. On multiple occasions, he has been the reason that his team has won and he continues to make big-time saves in big-time moments when they need it most. On top of that, he has drastically improved his overtime and shootout records after struggling mightily last season leading Dallas to the best overtime record in the NHL this year. The 23-year-old has shown maturity, work ethic, confidence, and the desire to be in the net every single game.
“I want to be the backbone for this team,” Oettinger said.
Behind him, Scott Wedgewood has been nothing but impressive since coming over from Arizona at the deadline. He has recorded points in six of his eight starts and has a 3-1-3 record and .915 save percentage. If you need a glimpse of what he has done in Dallas, take a look at his Stars debut in Carolina.
While there is no doubt that Oettinger will be in the net for Game 1, Wedgewood has proven himself as a solid backup that Bowness will feel comfortable throwing into any game throughout the playoffs.
“He wants to prove that he is a National Hockey League goalie and that he can play in big games,” Bowness said. “He has played very well, he is a great teammate, a great worker, a great guy to be around. He is a very competitive guy when you put him in the net. He knows that the opportunity we are giving him is one that can strengthen his career and he has certainly taken advantage of that.”
A Vegas Meltdown
The Golden Knight’s season was turned upside down after they made a huge move and acquired Buffalo Sabres superstar forward Jack Eichel. Before Eichel’s arrival, Vegas was 28-17-9 and sat just one point out of first place in the Pacific Division. In the ensuing 33 games, they’ve gone 15-14-5 and were officially eliminated on Wednesday night as they lost their third shootout in a row.
So what happened? The wheels came off and Vegas self-inflicted their way to their first non-playoff season in their short history. While many NHL fans were hoping for this type of collapse, following the Knight’s sketchy dealings with their salary cap and Evgeni Dadonov at the trade deadline, it still comes as a shock as they were once again among the top contenders heading into the season.
“I’m surprised. I’m disappointed,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “I’m at the front of the line for responsibility. There’s a lot of expectations on this team. It’s not an easy thing and it doesn’t feel good for anybody right now.”
The Stars were not an excellent team down the stretch. They lost five of their last eight games and went 0-3 on a crucial road trip giving Vegas all of the chances they needed to overtake them. If the Knights could have found a way to win a few games, they would have likely controlled their own destiny when they came into Dallas on Tuesday rather than desperately needing points to stay alive. They certainly did Dallas some favors along the way.
Now, we move on. Sure, the season has been inconsistent, frustrating, exhilarating, and confusing, but the Stars are in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. They will hop on a flight to Calgary to take on the Flames in the first round and have true belief within the group that they are capable of a deep run. Remember, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (2020, cough, cough). So buckle up Stars fans, playoff hockey is back in Texas!
“Absolutely, we are very excited about playing here,” Bowness said about having fans back for playoff games after the 2020 bubble. “Our crowds have been fantastic all year. The playoffs will ramp it up to another level. Two years ago, we played Nashville and St. Louis and the building was just rocking every night and we are looking forward to that again. That bubble experience, it was weird. You are playing for the Stanley Cup and there is nobody there, there is no atmosphere, that is weird, I don’t want to do that again. This is far better.”
Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!