For the first time in eight years, the Dallas Stars won a playoff series, defeating the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Sunday night in St. Paul to wrap up their best-of-seven series 4-2. On paper, the Western Conference leading Stars should have easily dispatched the Wild, who had lost five straight games and were the very definition of a team who backed their way into a playoff spot.
The first two games went to script, with Dallas allowing just one Wild goal in two home victories. Jamie Benn had two goals and two assists, and Stars agitator-in-chief Antoine Roussel scored perhaps the strangest goal in Dallas’ playoff history.
But in Minnesota, a more desperate Wild team showed up and taught Dallas an important lesson; there are no easy wins in the NHL postseason. Dallas was up 2-0 after four minutes in Game 3, but the Wild scored four unanswered goals to win 5-3. Dallas escaped Minnesota with a Game 4 win, but back in Dallas, Minnesota weathered a Stars comeback to win Game 5 in overtime and force Game 6 back in St. Paul.
Much like Game 3, Dallas dominated early, and lead 4-0 after two periods. Then came the madness. In what may have been the craziest period of hockey in this year’s playoffs, the Wild scored three times before Dallas could stop the bleeding, and scored a fluky goal of their own to lead 5-3. Minnesota added a late goal to close within one, and came within a quarter inch of tying the game in the final minute, but Dallas held on to win and eliminate the Wild.
These high scoring games are hard on the hearts of Stars fans, so much so that donning Victory Green and watching a game should only be done with the advice and consent of your cardiologist. Dallas has been able to keep their high scoring ways up without Tyler Seguin, who only played 15 minutes of Game 2, and continues to rehab from an Achilles’ injury. In Seguin’s absence, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza were the straws that stirred the Star’s offensive drink and sit 1-2 in playoff scoring after the first round.
They’ll need all the goals they can get (and a generous helping of defense) in the second round. They face a much more formidable opponent in the St. Louis Blues, who needed the full seven games to get past defending champion Chicago. The Blues won four of the five meetings against the Stars in the regular season, although that record is slightly deceptive. Three of those games were decided in 3-on-3 overtime or the shootout, neither of which is part of playoff hockey. Also, four of the five games against the Blues were the second night of back to back games for Dallas.
They’ll also need the extra rest against a physical St. Louis squad that plays a grinding game that wears down opponents. “They’re a bigger team,” said Stars head coach Lindy Ruff. “They've got some bigger bodies, heavier bodies. They got [defense and goaltending] I think is, and I've said this all along, I think one of the best in the league.”
As if the hockey between these two Central Division foes won’t be interesting enough, students of Stars history will have multiple storylines to follow in this series. St. Louis won a Game 7 for the first time since 1999, when they needed seven games to get past the Phoenix Coyotes in the opening round. Their second round opponent that year? The Dallas Stars, who dispatched them in six games. The Blues came into the playoffs needing a series win to likely save coach Ken Hitchcock’s job. Yes, that Ken Hitchcock, who coached the Stars to their only Stanley Cup title in 1999 against the Buffalo Sabres, who were coached at the time by ... Lindy Ruff. Oh, Lindy and Hitch were both assistant coaches with Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and shared a dorm together. Not even a Hollywood script has this much intrigue.
Should history repeat itself and the Stars dispatch the Blues, Dallas would become the odds-on favorite to win the Cup, especially given their record against the remaining playoff teams. But as we’ve learned in the first round, nothing will come easy, especially against St. Louis, who will likely be favored when the series gets underway Friday at the American Airlines Center. Coach Ruff is well aware of the challenge.
“We've played them hard and we've played them close,” Ruff said. “It should be one heck of a series.”