2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs first round preview: Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild

It’s the battle of the North Stars!

In one corner, we have the Dallas Stars. Often accused of being weak on the backend, this season, they decided not to care and went on to become the best of the West in the regular season, their 50 wins behind only the Washington Capitals. They scored more goals than everybody else with 267, and they also picked up Kris Russell at the deadline, ensuring Calgary would be cheering for them (for the first two rounds, at least).

In the other corner, we have the Minnesota Wild. Making the playoffs with just a paltry 87 points, they beat out the Colorado Avalanche for that final wild card spot in the West, securing it by five whole points. They’re well behind the rest of the playoff teams, though – even the Detroit Red Wings have 93 – so their lacklustre regular season may see them in tough in this first round matchup.

Season series

The Stars were the victors in the regular season, winning the season series with a 4-1 record. Things might be a little closer than it initially appears, though: three of Dallas’ victories were in overtime.

Then again, there’s no loser point in the playoffs.

The Stars’ lone regulation win over the Wild was a 6-3, while the Wild had a 2-1 victory over them for their lone tally. Still, Dallas outscored Minnesota 18-13 over their five-game series: as close as some games may have gotten, the Stars were still the clear victors.

Special teams

The Stars had a 22.1% power play through the regular season: the fourth best in the NHL. The Wild, meanwhile, were at 18.5%: middle of the pack, right at 15th. The Stars’ penalty kill, meanwhile, concluded at 82.3%: 10th in the NHL. The Wild’s finished at 77.9%, 27th overall.

So it would seem to very much be in Minnesota’s best interests to not. Take. Penalties. With one of the worst penalty kills in the league matched up against one of the top power plays – and against the team that scored the most goals in the regular season, roughly 22% of which came on the man advantage – the Wild could get into trouble awfully quick if they get undisciplined. Fortunately for them, they’ve got good habits: the Wild led the NHL with a +50 penalty differential as a team. The Stars were a +4.

Oh, but should either go on the kill? Minnesota scored seven shorthanded goals, tied for ninth in the NHL. Dallas scored 10, which is tied for third. So the Wild are still going to have to be on their toes no matter what.

Even strength

Before we dig in, some important injuries to note: Tyler Seguin will not be available for Dallas in Game 1, but is expected to play Game 2. Meanwhile, a fair amount of trouble for the Wild, as Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek are out, and Erik Haula is questionable himself.

dallas minnesota rolling averages

(Dallas is in blue, Minnesota is in green.)

There’s a fairly substantial gap when we regard even strength play. Through the regular season at 5v5, Dallas was a 52.56% CF team: only Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were better. Minnesota, meanwhile, clocked in at 47.86%: one of four playoff teams below 50.00% (the other three being Florida and both New York teams).

Let’s get more specific, though. The Stars had a shot ratio of 52.64% throughout the season, fifth in the NHL; the Wild were a 49.66% SF team – still not cracking the 50.00% mark, but getting closer, and 16th in the NHL. When it comes to scoring chances, the Stars were a 53.4% team, their numbers inching up just a little higher as we get closer to the net (and still fifth best in the NHL). The Wild, meanwhile, were 48.5%: dropping some.

So what about actual goal ratios? Dallas came in at 51.72%, dropping a little as they placed 10th in the NHL; Minnesota, meanwhile, actually came in at 52.06%: just above the Stars at ninth overall.

What does this all mean? Well, the Stars are the superior offensive team – but they’re more susceptible to giving up goals. And hey, speaking of that…

Goaltending

The Stars have a tandem of Finnish goalies going for them. Antti Niemi, 32 years young, played 48 games for Dallas this season, 43 of which he started. He posted a .905 save percentage along the way. Kari Lehtonen, meanwhile – also 32 years young – played 43 games, starting 39 of them. He posted a .906 save percentage. Both goalies had 25 wins apiece.

That’s hardly any breathing room between the two. So who’s Dallas’ starting goalie? Um.

For Game 1, it’s Lehtonen; however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Niemi during this series, either. And not that it should matter a whole lot, but Lehtonen has only played eight playoff games in his career; Niemi has played 62, including two rather deep runs, including a Cup win.

Things are a bit clearer in Minnesota. Devan Dubnyk – who you may recall previously won the Masterton for surviving an extended period of time as an Edmonton Oiler – has played 67 games for the Wild this season; Darcy Kuemper, his backup, played 21 games. So Dubnyk, 29, is the guy – and his .918 save percentage this season just might be able to steal some games for the Wild. Even if things go south, Kuemper, 25, is sitting at .915 himself, so Minnesota definitely has two capable goalies on its hands.

Schedule

Date Game Start Time
Thursday, April 14 Minnesota @ Dallas 9:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, April 16 Minnesota @ Dallas 8:00 p.m. ET
Monday, April 18 Dallas @ Minnesota 8:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, April 20 Dallas @ Minnesota 9:30 p.m. ET
Friday, April 22 Minnesota @ Dallas TBD
Sunday, April 24 Dallas @ Minnesota TBD
Tuesday, April 26 Minnesota @ Dallas TBD

Prediction

This is Dallas’ series to lose. It’s a first seed against an eighth seed, though: that’s not exactly surprising. But Dallas is a terrifying team on the offensive side of the puck, one of the very best in the NHL. While they may sometimes leave something to be desired defensively, if any team can score its way out of trouble, it’s the Stars.

The one area the Wild have a chance is their superior goaltending. They aren’t that much better defensively – allowing 55.78 corsi events against per 60 compared to Dallas’ 56.48 – but both Minnesota goalies’ save percentages are at least .10% better than the Stars’.

Will that be enough? Probably to avoid getting swept, but probably not enough to win a series. Let’s say Stars in five.