For as long as these two have shared the same conference, it may be surprising that Calgary and Dallas have never met in the playoffs before. You have to go all the way back to 1981, Calgary’s first post-season in the NHL, to see a Flames-North Stars series that went six games long. There’s not much history here.
But this presents an interesting first-round matchup in 2020 for a variety of reasons.
Though Calgary wrapped up the regular season with the 20th-ranked offence, they were trending up and were a top-seven unit from Jan. 1 on, after Geoff Ward had time to settle things following a mid-season coaching change. Now they’ll clash against the Stars, who had a heck of a time generating offence all year, but were one of the stingiest defences in the league, backed by a 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist.
So, now that the qualifying round dust has settled, Dallas arrives as the West’s third seed and Calgary as the sixth-best left. Here’s what you need to know about the series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Calgary: 50.25 CF% (15th), 47.67 GF% (24th), 91.89 SV% (15th), 7.64 SH% (23rd), 0.995 PDO (23rd)
Dallas: 49.48 CF% (18th), 49.54 GF% (19th), 93.30 SV% (2nd), 6.65 SH% (29th), 0.999 PDO (18th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Calgary: 21.2 PP% (11th), 82.1 PK% (8th), 204 GF (20th), 214 GA (16th)
Dallas: 21.1 PP% (13th), 79.7 PK% (17th), 178 GF (29th), 174 GA (2nd)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
The story of the qualifying round:
Clearly, the main storyline for Calgary was all the injuries the Jets sustained. Losing both Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine was a huge blow for Winnipeg, and Calgary took full advantage.
The Flames put forth a balanced effort up front, averaging four goals per game with 11 different players scoring. In fact, the blue line only contributed one goal in the series and it was a redundant Rasmus Andersson empty-netter in Game 4.
The special teams were solid with the power play clicking at 29.4 per cent and the penalty kill at 88.2 per cent while adding a shorthanded goal. A strong performance from Cam Talbot certainly didn’t hurt either. The netminder went 12-10-1 with average numbers in the regular season but posted a .945 save percentage, 1.51 goals-against average and one shutout in four starts against the Jets.
Captain Mark Giordano also pointed to Ward’s leadership and tweaks to the defensive scheme as contributing factors. The Flames went 24-15-3 after Ward replaced Bill Peters in late November.
“He’s brought our group way closer together,” Giordano told reporters following the series. “Just a guy who demands respect. He’s been there, he’s won before, so his words carry a lot of weight. For him to come in and change our D-zone and tighten it up, I believe we’re a better defensive team than we were before the break. Credit to him for having the guts to make that change and credit to the guys for buying in.”
The Stars, meantime, came out of the round robin with a 1-2-0 record, finishing as the third seed after a 2-1 shootout win against St. Louis. And though those games were less intense without the threat of elimination, there were still some concerning signs for Dallas.
One of the toughest defensive teams in the regular season, Dallas allowed 36.5 shots against per game in the three round-robin games, better than only Arizona, Columbus and St. Louis. The trouble with that is if Dallas’ defence becomes an issue, it’s unlikely they’ll score their way out of it. The Stars’ offence ranked 26th in the regular season and managed only three goals in the four round-robin games.
It’s hard to read what will stick and what won’t out of those games because now everything takes on new meaning for the teams that got a bye. The Stars were a fairly consistent team through the season, but really leaned on that defence and strong goaltending from Ben Bishop. And you’d think with weapons such as Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and more, that they’d be able to find ways to convert more often, but it’s a real question: can the Stars score enough?
Calgary had the NHL’s second-best offence from Feb. 1 to the pause and scored more than anyone in the qualifying round. We’ll see if the Stars’ defence can regain form. Of note: both Bishop and Seguin missed Sunday’s game and were deemed “unfit to play.”
But perhaps the bigger concern is whether the Stars can immediately match the tempo of a Flames team fresh off an emotional round of games. There’s no time to search for heightened urgency.
“The play-in series are very intense. They’re very, very physical. They’re in each other’s faces and it’s every shift,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “And that’s what we’re going to see when we enter the playoffs. We’re trying to prepare our players that this is coming. We have to prepare now. We can’t just flip a switch when the first game of the playoffs comes along and say, ‘OK, now we’re intense.’”
Calgary Flames X-Factor: Milan Lucic
The Flames’ top two lines performed well with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane each pulling their own weight and contributing offensively, yet the contributions of the third line shouldn’t be overlooked.
In particular, Milan Lucic stepped his game up from the regular season. He dropped the gloves two minutes into Game 1 to set the tone for his team. Playing with Sam Bennett and Dillon Dube, while also getting time on the second power-play unit, Lucic had a point in each of the four games against the Jets for his first four-game point streak since April of 2017.
Lucic has by far the most playoff experience of anyone on the Flames and he’ll need to continue his strong play if Calgary hopes to go on a deep run.
Dallas Stars X-Factor: Joe Pavelski
The most experienced player on Dallas, Pavelski has 49 goals in 137 post-season games, though his first regular season with the Stars was one of the worst offensively of his career. Pavelski failed to reach 20 goals for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 and was seventh on the team in points. Yet if you’re looking for a goal in a key moment around the net, Pavelski is a player you’d feel good counting on. With less than a minute left in Sunday’s game, the Stars trailed the Blues 1-0 and were on their way to the fourth seed and a date with Vancouver. But Pavelski scored the clutch marker to extend the game, which the Stars went on to win.
It’s that kind of clutch performance the Stars brought the veteran in for as they try and get over the hump as a built-to-win-now contender. With a strong series against the Stars, Pavelski could erase the memory of a largely forgettable individual season.