If you’re a big fan of goals, you probably haven’t been very entertained through the first two games of the first-round series between the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars. In Game 1, the Flames were able to get just a single goal past Jake Oettinger, but it was good enough to secure the win as Jacob Markstrom posted a shutout. Game 2 on Thursday night was much of the same, though in the opposite fashion.
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This time, it was Oettinger who recorded the shutout, while Markstrom was nearly perfect himself, allowing just a single goal on a first-period deflection by Joe Pavelski. The only difference from the opening game was that the Stars were able to walk away with a 2-0 victory thanks to an empty-net goal from Michael Raffl with just over a minute remaining.
As far as playoff games go, this one was rather dull, which is exactly what the Stars wanted, and will need to continue if they hope to advance into the second round. Here’s a look at three of the main reasons they were able to even the series up at one apiece.
Stars’ Stingy Defensive Play
Coming into this series, it was well known by everyone that the Flames had a clear advantage as far as offensive weapons were concerned. That was evident by the fact that they averaged 3.55 goals per game on the season, while the Stars were far lower at 2.84. While most didn’t give Rick Bowness’ club much of a chance, everyone knew that if they were to walk away with a series win, it would be thanks to some incredible defensive play.
In Game 1, the Flames were able to fire 26 shots Oettinger’s way, though head coach Darryl Sutter admitted that most of those shots were not high-danger opportunities. The few that did happen to be good quality were turned aside by the Stars netminder, aside from a power-play tally by Elias Lindholm.
Thursday night was more of the same, as the Flames outshot the Stars once again, this time by a 29-23 margin, but once again they didn’t have a ton of scoring opportunities. Bowness himself deserves a ton of credit for the style of game he has implemented early on in this series, as do the Stars players for shutting down the Flames’ top guns to this point.
Oettinger Big When Needed
The goaltending matchup in this series was one that everyone believed was heavily in the Flames’ favor, and for good reason. Markstrom was coming off of the best season of his career, one that will likely result in him being named a top-three finalist for the Vezina Trophy, while Oettinger had just 79 career games under his belt, and prior to Game 1 had never started an NHL playoff game.
You wouldn’t know that Oettinger was inexperienced based on these past two games, as he has allowed just one goal on a combined 55 shots for a dazzling .980 save percentage. If he is somehow able to keep his hot play going, this series could end up being a lot tighter than anyone had predicted coming in.
Flames Struggling on Man Advantage
Though it wasn’t talked about a ton heading into the playoffs, the Flames’ power play was solid all season long. Their 22.9 percent success rate, while by no means incredible, was good enough for 10th throughout the entire league.
Things started out great for them on the man advantage in Game 1, as they were able to convert on their very first power play of the series after Jani Hakanpaa took a minor for an illegal check to the head early in the first period. Since that goal, however, the Flames have failed to convert on the seven other opportunities they have been given.
Given the immense talent on their power-play units, the first one, in particular, you would expect them to turn things around soon. After all, they are going up against a subpar Stars penalty kill which ranked 19th in the league this season with a success rate of just 79 percent. To this point, however, they seem to have figured something out when it comes to the Flames’ power play, as they aren’t giving up a ton of scoring opportunities when down a man.
Series Down to a Best of Five
With the Stars’ win in Game 2, they have now turned this series into a best-of-five and will return home for Game 3 on Saturday night. It isn’t an ideal situation for a team most expected to win the opening two games on home ice, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. According to the numbers, teams that win the opening game go on to win 65 percent of the series, meaning the Flames still have a great shot despite Thursday’s result. With that being said, this was a statement win for the Stars and proves that eliminating them from the playoffs may not be as easy as some had predicted.