On the surface, ending the round-robin with a victory would seem to mean little for the Dallas Stars.
Had they lost Sunday’s clash with the St. Louis Blues, the Stars would have faced the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Because of their 2-1 shootout victory, though, the Stars will meet the Calgary Flames on Tuesday in Edmonton. In turn, the Stars received a much-needed morale boost, the kind that comes from snapping a nine-game losing skid that dated back to Feb. 25.
“This game kind of re-established our game and got us back to an understanding of what it takes,” forward Joe Pavelski said. “Relief? No. Confidence a little bit, and we’ll keep moving forward.”
When the truncated regular season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stars had a 37-24-8 record, which left them three points ahead of Calgary (36-27-7). The Flames, who dispatched the Winnipeg Jets in four games in the best-of-five qualifying round, won two of three meetings this season — although all came before Christmas.
Still, both clubs have had plenty of opportunity to scout each other since action resumed.
“They play fast, they play good hockey, they move the puck well,” said Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin. “It’s the playoffs, there’s never going to be easy games and at the same time they’ve been in the playoffs for the last couple years and they know how to play and what to do.”
Khudobin could be a big factor in the upcoming series, which features three games in four nights to start. No. 1 netminder Ben Bishop has missed the last couple of games due to injury. In addition, top-line center Tyler Seguin is also listed as day-to-day.
Meanwhile, the Flames appear to be healthy and firing on all cylinders. They manhandled the injury-ravaged Jets — netting 10 goals in the final two games alone — and scored five power-play goals in the series. By comparison, the Stars scored a grand total of four goals in their three round-robin games.
“Right now, with our team, I think the biggest thing is we’re hungry,” said center Sean Monahan, who had six points (two goals, four assists) against the Jets. “We’ve had chances in the playoffs before and we’ve been embarrassed and obviously been knocked out a few times.
“Right now, you look at our team, every guy is bought in and every guy wants it. I think the character of our team has stepped up.”
At the other end of the rink, the Flames were solid defensively, starting with goaltender Cam Talbot, who posted a 1.51 goals-against average and .945 save percentage in the Winnipeg series. Talbot entered the series with the Jets with 15 games of experience in the playoffs.
“As a goalie, I feel like you don’t really ‘lose’ your ability, but you sometimes you don’t feel like you want to be or you have in the past,” Talbot told Postmedia. “Right now, I feel as good — as confident — as I ever have, and think I’m playing as well as I have throughout my career as well.”
That confidence runs right through the Calgary lineup.
“We learned a lot about our team and we played some pretty solid hockey,” forward Sam Bennett said. “But now we’re just looking ahead. We’re going to move on. We played good hockey and now we’re moving on and worrying about the next team, whoever that is going to be.
“It doesn’t really matter to us. We’re a confident group right now.”
–Field Level Media