It’s playoff time again, which means it’s also time for our Breaking It Down series. That’s where I – and I alone – take a look at the post-season matchups and provide is a snapshot of the action to come. This edition features a look at the Western Conference bout between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild. Game One is on Thursday.
Despite a shared history, the Stars and Wild will be meeting for the first time in the playoffs. Dallas finished the regular season 22 points ahead of Minnesota, but contests between the two teams have been tight – three of them went to the extra frame this season. The Stars have made the post-season just one time in the past seven years, which means experience (or the lack thereof) will be a huge factor.
The Wild, on the other hand, have made the playoffs the past three seasons and have advanced with regularity, only to get clipped by the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ve got new coach John Torchetti to lead the charge, but they’ve only been 15-11-1 since he took over and they may not have had a chance to gel under his tutelage.
Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have split the gig in Dallas, with Lehtonen starting 39 games and Niemi starting 43. It looks like Lehtonen could get the nod, with a 2.76 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Niemi, meanwhile, has a 2.67 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. In case you were wondering, those aren’t particularly good numbers and the Stars probably won’t win this series if it comes down to close games.
Devan Dubnyk has been the man in Minnesota and he made the post-season for the first time last season. He had 66 starts in the regular season and put up 32 wins, with a 2.33 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. He had five shutouts and is capable of playing a lot of minutes. Darcy Kuemper is on deck if necessary.
Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon are the top pair for the Wild and they’ve been among the most active in the NHL. Suter put up a career-best season in points and helpers and he logs major minutes. He put up 31 minutes against the San Jose Sharks on April 5, for example, and will see similar time in the post-season. On the flip side, Minnesota will need to get more out of Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba. They’re prone to lapses in their own end and that could hurt their chances.
The Stars are a relatively stable team in their own end, which has prevented key losses from their subpar goaltending. Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg have accounted for the top pair. Klingberg put up 58 points in 76 games, while Goligoski had 37 points in 82 games. Johnny Oduya has held it down in his own right, too, with Jason Demers often completing the pair. Stephen Johns has been a nice surprise since arriving in the Patrick Sharp trade.
The Stars have no problems in the scoring department. They led the NHL in the category thanks in large part to the Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin one-two punch. Benn led Dallas in goals, assists and points and has produced at a high level, while Seguin is still a question mark for Game One due to an injury in mid-March. Jason Spezza has also seen a rise in production on the second line, while Patrick Sharp has only made this team better.
Minnesota has still been searching for the right combination of lines up front, with Torchetti trying to find a good mix. So far, there are some question marks for Game One. Zach Parise and Erik Haula are both uncertain to start the series, but Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle will be ready and they’ll make an impact. 24-year-old Coyle put up 42 points in 82 games, while Jason Zucker could receive a vote of confidence if injury troubles keep plaguing the club.
The Stars are capable of blasting the doors off the opposition and they should pick up the same pace against the Wild. Minnesota is still struggling to put together the right system under Torchetti and they may be a little on the rocky side, but there are some quality pieces in place. Still, they’ll have to weather the Dallas storm and that could prove challenging.
The weak link for the Stars is clear, however: goaltending. If the Wild can crack the armour and get under the skin of their adversaries, they may be able to light up the less-than-stellar tandem of Niemi and Lehtonen. But they’ll have to score a lot of goals to slip by in the differential, which could make this a really short or really long series. Either way, expect some serious points on the board.
With the evidence in mind, I’m siding with the Dallas Stars. Look for this series to go five games.