Dallas Stars fans experienced a Stanley Cup playoff series victory on home ice for the first time in 11 years Monday night, as the Stars defeated the Nashville Predators 2-1 in overtime of Game 6 to win the series 4-2. Dallas joins a host of teams in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs that were expected to bow out in the first round, only to shock their higher-seeded opponents.
The Western Conference's top two seeds are out in the first round, and with Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado all defeating their higher seeded opponents to advance, every team remaining feels like they've got a shot to make a run in a wide-open bracket.
The Stars and Blues open their second-round series at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Enterprise Center in St. Louis (NBCSN).
How did Dallas win a series very few gave them much of a chance? In short, Stars goalie Ben Bishop was rock-solid in net, and Dallas generated scoring up and down the lineup.
In Bishop, who was named a Vezina Trophy finalist as the league's best goaltender during this series, the Stars found confidence in knowing their netminder would mop up any mistakes in front of him. Save for two soft goals allowed in Game 3, Bishop was the best goalie in the series. Bishop's goaltending and Dallas' defense shut down Nashville's top scoring threats and held the Predators' power play to zero goals in 14 chances through the series.
Dallas' dearth of depth scoring was supposed to be a liability coming into this series, but the Stars found a way to turn that around as well. The Stars' key trade-deadline acquisition, Mats Zuccarello, found himself healthy for the playoffs and fleshed out a second line that took some of the scoring pressure off Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. During the regular season, Stars coach Jim Montgomery would often split Benn from his regular linemates, hoping to find a way to spark a team that entered the playoffs as the lowest-scoring team among playoff qualifiers.
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With Zuccarello playing well with Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson on the second line, Montgomery reunited Benn with Seguin and Alexander Radulov late in Game 3. The top line tied Game 3 late before the Stars lost in overtime, then Dallas' offense torched the Predators for 10 combined goals in Games 4 and 5. With Game 6 turning into a goalie duel, it was the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line that set up defenseman John Klingberg's overtime game-winner to end the series.
The Stars will now draw the St. Louis Blues, who went from last place on Jan. 2 to the team no one in the West wanted to play in the playoffs. Since the turn of the calendar year, the Blues have been the league's hottest team, and Dallas has plenty of playoff history with them. In 2016, Dallas won its opening-round playoff series, only to fall to the Blues in seven games in the second round. On paper, the teams match up closely, with both squads riding top-notch goaltending and tight team play to wins on most nights. But Dallas will likely come into the series as underdogs yet again.
The Stars will have a heady task to avoid the same fate they suffered three years ago, but expect Montgomery to have his team ready when they head to St Louis to start Round 2. Whatever adjustments Montgomery makes to his game plan, he knows that it comes down to what his players do on the ice. Asked what he thought of winning a playoff series as a first-year head coach, Montgomery didn't bat an eye.
"Coaches don't win anything," he said. "Players win it, and our players won it for us."