No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames
Stars: 1-2-0 in round-robin; 37-24-8, .594 points percentage in regular season
Flames: 3-1 to win qualifier series against Winnipeg Jets; 36-27-7, .564 points percentage in regular season
Season series: DAL 1-1-1; CGY 2-1-0
Game 1 is Tuesday (5:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS)
The Flames are going to see more defense-first play and elite goaltending in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They just hope they continue to have success against that formula.
The Stars are a mirror image of the Winnipeg Jets, whom Calgary eliminated in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Dallas, like Winnipeg, is built from the goalie out and relies on defensive structure to define its identity.
Ben Bishop, who was unfit to play for the Stars in two of the three round-robin games, is an elite goalie when healthy and is capably backed up by Anton Khudobin. Dallas allowed 174 goals in the regular season, second-fewest behind the Boston Bruins (167).
Winnipeg had Connor Hellebuyck, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the goalie voted best in the NHL. But Calgary dominated the series, outscoring the Jets 16-6. The 16 goals scored were tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for most in the Qualifiers.
“We’re ready for sure,” said forward Sean Monahan, who led the Flames with six points (two goals, four assists) against the Jets. “We just went through a pretty intense series. We know what’s coming.”
The Stars are impressed with what they saw from the Flames.
“I think they got some offensive talent over there,” Dallas forward Joe Pavelski said. “They came from a series where they had to battle; Winnipeg was a defensive team. The other thing is what happened last year (the Flames lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference First Round in five games), so it’s a little bit of a wake-up call for them. I think they’re going to come in and they’re going to work hard. The biggest thing, we’ll understand what they do but at the end of the day it’s going to have to be about us as well.”
The Stars will have to be better than they were in the round-robin, when they were outscored 10-4. A come-from-behind win against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday saved Dallas, which is 1-7-2 in its past 10 games dating to the regular season, from losing all three of its games.
“It just feels good that we played Dallas Stars hockey,” coach Rick Bowness said after the 2-1 shootout win against the Blues. “You’re talking about things that went on four months ago. That means nothing. All that mattered was getting ready for the playoffs. We haven’t been happy with our play the last couple of games; what happened in February and March means nothing. We’re thrilled with how we played today … and that’s how we’re going to have to play.”
This will be the second playoff series between the Flames and Stars franchises. The Minnesota North Stars defeated the Flames in six games in the 1981 Division Semifinals.
Stars: Miro Heiskanen had four assists in the three round-robin games, including three during the second period of a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Aug. 3. He is the third Stars defenseman with three assists in one postseason game, joining Sergei Zubov (Game 4 of 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals at the Avalanche) and John Klingberg (Game 4 of 2019 first round against the Nashville Predators). The 21-year-old scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) and was plus-14, while averaging 23:46 of ice time in 68 regular-season games.
Flames: Left wing Johnny Gaudreau provided an impact in the qualifier series, an important development after he had one assist in five games in the series loss to the Avalanche in the playoffs last season. Gaudreau had three points (two goals, one assist) against the Jets and provided a spark for Calgary’s power play, which was 5-for-17 in the series.
Stars: Bishop is day-to-day after he was ruled unfit to play two of the three round-robin games. He is a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy and this season his goals-against average (2.50) was 10th in the League and his save percentage (.920) was tied for 10th with Robin Lehner of the Golden Knights among goalies who played at least 20 games. Khudobin, who made 16 saves against the Blues on Sunday, led the NHL with a .930 save percentage and tied for third with Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes with a 2.22 GAA (minimum 20 games), each an NHL career best.
Flames: Coach Geoff Ward pushed the right button, starting veteran Cam Talbot, who went 3-1 against the Jets with a 1.51 GAA and a .945 save percentage. With 15 games of playoff experience with the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers prior to this season, Talbot appeared to quickly settle into a groove in the qualifier series. David Rittich, Calgary’s No. 1 goalie for much of this season, has no NHL playoff experience.
Numbers to know
Stars: Pavelski has scored 50 postseason goals, fifth in NHL history among United States-born players behind Joe Mullen (60), Mike Modano (58), Jeremy Roenick (53) and Patrick Kane (51). His 12 game-winning goals in the postseason are tied for second among active players with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin behind Penguins forward Patrick Marleau (16) and his 102 points are 12th.
Flames: Calgary’s special teams were dominant against the Jets. The power play was 5-for-17 (29.4 percent) and the penalty kill allowed two goals in 17 attempts (88.2 percent) in their qualifier series. Efficiency in special-teams’ situations is imperative for the Flames, who play a physical style that can translate to extra penalties. There were a combined 34 power plays, an average of 8.5 per game, in the series against the Jets.
Stars: Denis Gurianov can be a difference-maker when he is on his game, but he struggled in the round-robin. The forward was held without a point, was minus-3 and had four shots on goal. Gurianov led the Stars with 20 goals in 64 regular-season games, tied with Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson for second among NHL rookies behind Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik (30).
Flames: Sam Bennett had an impactful series against the Jets with three points (two goals, one assist) in the four games, sharing the team lead for even-strength points (three) with Monahan and forward Andrew Mangiapane. Bennett’s physicality helped maintain or shift the momentum Calgary’s way in that series. His offense was limited during the regular season with 12 points (eight goals, four assists) in 52 games, but a promotion to the third line in the postseason has paid dividends.
They said it
“Playoff hockey is a little different. There’s going to be different, momentum switches in the game within the series. We know how Calgary plays. We know their top end players and obviously like Joe [Pavelski] said their game is very mobile and up the ice but it’s going to come down to what we do as a team here. You just have to control that, not too high, not too low.” — Stars defenseman John Klingberg
“I think the biggest challenge, to be honest with you, is getting your headspace back to where it was before the first series. Obviously with us, we’ve got a young team and I think it’s really critical that we don’t feel too good about winning the [qualifying series]. We’ve got to make sure that we get right back to where our focus was before the first series. Sometimes when you don’t have the experience, there’s a tendency to sit on that first series a little bit too often. So, for us, that’s the biggest challenge, I think mentally preparing our guys to get set a few days before we play … so that we can mentally prepare for what lies ahead.” — Flames coach Geoff Ward
Will win if …
Stars: They bring the intensity showed in the win against the Blues on Sunday. The Stars gave up 3.33 goals in the round-robin, tied with the Golden Knights for sixth-most, after allowing 2.52 goals per game, second-fewest to the Boston Bruins (2.39), during the regular season.
Flames: If Talbot continues his sharp play and Calgary’s defenders continue to be strong in packing the middle of the defensive zone to limit high-danger chances against. The Flames are facing a first-round opponent that could generate more offensive pressure than the Jets, who were without two of their top scorers (Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine) for much of the qualifying series.
Stars projected lineup
Jamie Benn — Tyler Seguin — Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark — Joe Pavelski — Denis Gurianov
Roope Hintz — Jason Dickinson — Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano — Radek Faksa — Blake Comeau
Esa Lindell — John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak — Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera — Stephen Johns
Unfit to play: None
Flames projected lineup
Johnny Gaudreau — Sean Monahan — Elias Lindholm
Andrew Mangiapane — Mikael Backlund — Matthew Tkachuk
Milan Lucic — Sam Bennett — Dillon Dube
Tobias Rieder — Mark Jankowski — Derek Ryan
Mark Giordano — TJ Brodie
Rasmus Andersson — Noah Hanifin
Derek Forbort — Erik Gustafsson
Unfit to play: None
— NHL.com staff writers Tim Campbell and Jon Lane contributed to this report