Dallas Stars: 2nd in the Central Division, 108 points
Seattle Kraken: 1st Wild Card in the Western Conference, 100 points
|tuesday 2 may||1.Seattle at Dallas||9:30 p.m. ET|
|Thursday May 4||2. Seattle to Dallas||To be determined|
Additional start dates and times will be confirmed later this week.
The Dallas Stars had a few days off after beating the Minnesota Wild in six games on Friday. Jake Oettinger found the same magic that nearly led the Stars to an upset first-round victory over Calgary a year ago, while Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, Tyler Seguin and Miro Heiskanen carried the offensive charge. The Stars got scores all over the place, and when you have a goalie who plays more like Andrei Vasilevskiy, you’re unstoppable.
The Kraken, on the other hand, play with house money. It’s the newest team in the league, the one that most expected to miss the playoffs in an effort to continue building up strength. Instead, without a true superstar, but armed with one of the hardest working rosters in the league, the Kraken not only made the playoffs, but beat the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Avalanche. Colorado. And they did so despite losing top scorer Jared McCann halfway through. By all accounts, the Kraken were serious underdogs against the best team in the Central Division.
It helped that the Avalanche were playing seriously shorthanded, missing Gabriel Landeskog, Josh Manson, Andrew Cogliano, Valeri Nichushkin, Darren Helm and even Cale Makar for one game. It wasn’t the Avalanche at full strength. Still, winning Game 7 against the defending champions is the ultimate confidence booster for a team with high hopes and low expectations.
After meeting three times over a 10-day span in March, these two know each other well. The Stars won Game 1 on March 11 4-3 in overtime before winning again 5-2 two nights later. The Kraken ended things with a 5-4 OT win on March 21, fending off a late comeback effort that saw Jamie Benn tie the game with just a second left.
Heiskanen led the way with seven points in three games, with Benn (six) and Joe Pavelski (five) also having outstanding performances. Another defenseman led Seattle’s offense, with Vince Dunn (four) ahead of Daniel Sprong (three), Carson Soucy (three) and Chris Tanev (three) in three games.
With the winning team needing at least four goals in each of these games, you can expect this to be quite a scoring streak.
The top five scorers
Roope Hintz, 12 points
Jason Robertson, 7 points
Tyler Seguin, 6 points
Miro Heiskanen, 6 points
Two tied, 4 points
Yanni Gourd, 6 points
Jaden Schwartz, 5 points
Justin Schultz, 5 points
Oliver Bjorkstrand, 4 points
Alexander Wennberg, 4 points
Trust. It’s all a mental game with this series. The Stars still have key core elements that led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020, only to miss the playoffs the following year. They have faced adversity and know how to overcome the ups and downs.
The Kraken, however, fly high and have nothing to lose. They crushed pre-season expectations and are still new as a group. So beating the defending Cup champions in their first playoff run is something pretty special, even if there are a few players who have gone the distance before and understand the rigors of a tough run in playoffs.
So which team believes in themselves the most? They played fairly even hockey over the season and both had similar strengths going into their first encounters. The Stars certainly have the highest expectations as one of the best teams in the West, but sometimes you just can’t beat your heart.
Dallas has a true superstar on its hands in Jason Robertson, who scored 46 goals and 109 points in his third NHL season – both career highs. He still has seven playoff points, even with increased defensive pressure from the Avalanche in the first round. But the star of the first round was Roope Hintz, a playoff great with 37 points in 50 games over four seasons. He had five goals and 12 points in the first round to lead all players while scoring at a rate of 3.00 points per 60. Not far behind him was Evgenii Dadonov at 2.97, with his three goals and four points in a midfield role giving the Stars a serious punch. Not bad for what seemed like a minor acquisition at the trade deadline. Tyler Seguin was also big with six points, while Heiskanen himself was dangerous from the blue line with six assists. Add Benn, Mason Marchment and Wyatt Johnston, and this is definitely a group that will choke you up offensively.
The Kraken’s offense has always been by committee this season, and that’s the case in the playoffs as well. Yanni Gourde, an underrated part of Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup runs, had six points against Colorado, Jaden Schwartz and Justin Schultz in catching five apiece. Even with Jared McCann injured and Matty Beniers limited to just one goal, the fact that they could get help to score from anywhere was a huge bonus. They’ll need guys like Beniers and Jordan Eberle to step in because Dallas definitely has the advantage up front, but the Kraken’s depth makes them a tough team to play against.
Of the teams still in the hunt, Dallas and Seattle have two of the deepest rosters. And with the number of goals we’ve seen in the three-game series, expect guns blazing every night.
They’re two teams that like to use their blue line to generate the offense as much as possible, and that’s why Heiskanen and Dunn led their respective teams through the season series. The Heiskanen and Ryan Suter pair looked solid in the first round, with the young-veteran combo playing a solid two-way game. Esa Lindell and Jani Hakanpaa did a great job of closing things out, while the third pair of Thomas Harley and Joel Hanley were actually pretty solid in 27 minutes with an expected 65.2 goal percentage, according to Money Puck. The Dallas blue line is physically imposing, with the full body standing at least 6-foot-1. Having Heiskanen, one of the best young defensemen in the game, playing his best hockey this year doesn’t hurt either.
It’s amazing what the Seattle guard has accomplished this year. They conceded the fifth-fewest goals expected in the NHL in a 5-on-5 game this year. It is with a group consisting of Dunn, Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz. It’s absolutely amazing what coach Dave Hakstol has been able to do with this core, and one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success is deployment. No defender has played more than 20:32 (Larsson) at 5-5, and visual testing will tell you this team does a great job of stopping things late in games. The Kraken also get full commitment from their attackers in their zone, including Gourde, Brandon Tanev and Eeli Tolvanen. They’ll need everyone on deck to stop the Stars’ burning attack.
Can the Kraken be a better keeper than Dallas? Oettinger’s .930 save percentage at 5-on-5 is among the best in the league. His small but impressive playoff resume is as good as anyone, statistically, in the past two years. Oettinger was also miles ahead of offers from Seattle during the regular season, and even backup Scott Wedgewood had solid numbers in 21 games.
Fortunately for the Kraken, they got the goalkeeper they had always dreamed of in Philipp Grubauer in the first round. The former Avalanche goalie struggled in his first two seasons with the Kraken, boasting just an .895 save percentage in 39 games this season. But his forward stats, highlighted by his .934 save percentage and 1.84 goals saved above the average at 5-for-5, were actually better than Oettinger’s with an extra game under his belt. also. It’s hard to trust Grubauer over Oettinger, but the Kraken wouldn’t have progressed without solid goalkeeper play. As simple as that.
Fortunately, the injured list for both teams is quite short. Unfortunately, it includes high quality players. The Kraken are expected to start without Jared McCann and Andre Burakovsky, two mainstays of the team’s attack. Burakovsky missed the entire first round with a lower-body injury, while McCann played just four games before sitting out with an undisclosed issue after a late hit that suspended Makar. If either is made available, it will be a huge boost for the Kraken.
For the Stars, Joe Pavelski is considered day-to-day at this point after sustaining a concussion in Game 1 on a Matt Dumba hit. He recently returned to training, which is a good sign for a forward who just missed the 80-point mark this season. The Stars have done well without him, but there’s no doubt he would make a difference.
The Stars are a hard-hitting, scoring, shot-blocking, and goalie-crazed machine. The Kraken are a hardworking, all for one, no one left behind unit. It’s a battle between skill and heart. Do the Kraken have a mental advantage since they are playing with house money?
We have learned to underestimate the Kraken at our peril. Regardless of what happens here or how many players the Avs miss in the first round, Seattle has so much to be proud of at this point. They play with a « Why not us? » mentality, and that’s exactly what drove the Florida Panthers to victory. But the Stars can play unstoppable hockey and, in theory, have the best roster on paper. This series could easily go the distance, with Seattle giving it its all. But the Stars will wrap things up with the edge up front, and Oettinger will once again steal the show.
Stars in seven games.
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