To begin the conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we have a matchup between the two losing teams in the second round of the Western Conference last year. Not only did they both lose in the second round but they both lost in Game 7. The eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche lost in Game 7 to the San Jose Sharks. The Dallas Stars suffered an even more brutal loss as they fell 2-1 in double overtime to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
The Stars have grinded their way through this postseason. In the round-robin tournament, they lost their first two games against the Vegas Golden Knights (5-3) and the Avs (4-0). However, they rebounded to defeat the Blues 2-1 in a shootout. They took on the Calgary Flames in possibly the most evenly matched series in the first round. The Stars fell behind the Flames 2-1 and survived Game 2, 5-4, on a last-minute goal from Jamie Oleksiak.
They won 5-4 in overtime in Game 4 and in Game 5, they prevailed in a slugfest, 2-1, to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 6, they fell behind 3-0, looking like another Game 7 for the Stars was inevitable. Instead, the Stars displayed their best offensive performance of the season in a series-clinching 7-3 win. Denis Gurianov scored four goals, leading the Stars to the second round for the third time in five years.
The headliners for the Stars the last few years have been Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. However, the difference-maker on the team is defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who is tied for second in total playoff points with 12 (three goals and nine assists). He sets the tone, setting up an offense looking much improved from a regular season which saw them finish with the third-fewest goals scored.
If the Stars want to get back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2008, they will need to defeat a Colorado Avalanche team who completely dominated them in the round robin.
In the Avs’ 4-0 win over the Stars, goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped all 27 of the Stars’ shots on goal while the Avs launched 40 shots on Stars’ goaltender Anton Khudobin. The Avs went on to dispatch the Arizona Coyotes in five games despite the valiant effort from Coyotes’ goaltender Darcy Kuemper, the current leader in total saves this postseason. The Avs asserted their superiority as they dominated the Coyotes 7-1 in games four and five.
Among teams who made it past the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Avs average the most shots on goal per game while among all 24 teams, they have allowed the fewest shots on goal per game. Highlighting this is superstar Nathan MacKinnon. He has been on another level this postseason, leading all skaters in points with 13. His explosiveness and creativity make him a constant threat to set up goals whenever he touches the pucks.
The main beneficiary of MacKinnon’s playmaking has been free-agent acquisition Nazem Kadri, who has six goals this postseason, tied for the most among playoff skaters. This includes a last-second goal to defeat the Blues in the round-robin tournament.
The Stars have been resilient this postseason with timely goals and scrappy defending. The Avs dismantled a team like this in the first round and will appear to do so again. The Stars simply do not have the firepower to keep up with the Avalanche as it will be nearly impossible to slow them down.
This is a bad matchup for the Stars and the 4-0 result in the round-robin tournament was only a prelude to the potential massacre about to take place. The Avalanche will advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.
Prediction: Avalanche in 4