Why Chris Tanev is Dallas’ x-factor against Oilers’ rush offence

Dallas Stars defenceman Miro Heiskanen talks to the media about trade deadline acquisition Chris Tanev's performance in the playoffs thus far, complimenting his 'poise' with the puck and his skillset in the defensive zone.

For the second time in three years, the Edmonton Oilers will play in the Western Conference Final. All that stands between them and their first Stanley Cup Final since 2006 are the Dallas Stars, who made it here by knocking out the NHL’s past two champions.

Dallas’ defence shut down Colorado in the second round after the Avalanche averaged 5.6 goals per game in the first round against the Winnipeg Jets. Specifically, the Stars prevented the Avalanche from attacking off the rush, where they are at their most dangerous. The Oilers, who scored six rush goals in seven second-round games against the Vancouver Canucks, pose a similar threat.

“For me, it was shutting down their rush,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer told reporters recently. “(The Avalanche were) the No. 1 rush team basically in the league all year. It wasn’t perfect. The nights we lost, we didn’t (defend the rush well). The nights we won, we did, and we did it enough to win the series.”

DeBoer surely will emphasize the same things against the speedy Oilers, which means Connor McDavid should expect to see plenty of rush-stopping defenceman Chris Tanev over the next couple of weeks.

In the previous round, Tanev shared the ice with Nathan MacKinnon for 69:14 at 5-on-5. The Stars outscored the Avalanche 3-1 and limited them to six rush scoring chances in those minutes. MacKinnon, who led the league with 122 rush chances in all situations during the regular season (1.49 per game), had four in the second round.

The Stars also did not allow a 5-on-5 goal in the 46:43 when Tanev was matched up against Vegas Golden Knights No. 1 centre Jack Eichel in the first round.

“We want to close and squash and kill plays, but he’s built for that — his feet, his mobility, his mindset, his aggressive mindset,” DeBoer told NHL.com. “He’s been a great fit from a system point of view.”

Puck management will be critically important for the Oilers, who have surrendered a league-worst seven goals within five seconds of a turnover at 5-on-5 in the playoffs. The Stars, meanwhile, have scored five such goals.

Defence is not the only thing the Stars have going for them. They have 16 skaters who have scored in the post-season — most among remaining teams. Dallas also has the clear edge in net, where Jake Oettinger has saved 1.66 goals above expected. (Stuart Skinner, whom the Oilers benched for two games in the previous series, has allowed an extra 7.18 goals in the playoffs.)

“It’s the conference finals. You’re going to have to play a great team, and they certainly are,” McDavid told reporters. “They’re deep. They’re as deep a team as you’re going to find in the NHL. Four lines, six (defencemen), they have a great goaltender. It will be a great test.”

All stats via Sportlogiq

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