One round down, four to go? The Calgary Flames beat the Winnipeg Jets in a best-of-five qualifying round match-up last week. Next up? A best-of-seven series with the Dallas Stars.
We’ve reconvened the FlamesNation writing crew to give our picks for the next couple weeks of Flames hockey.
Mike Gould: Calgary has struggled against Dallas for years, but it seems like the tide might finally be turning in the opposite direction. The Flames had endured seven consecutive losses to the Stars coming into the 2019–20 season, but they managed to compile a 2-1-0 record this year against their foes from the Lone Star State. At first glance, the Stars somewhat resemble a Lone Star team on offense, with Tyler Seguin almost single-handedly carrying the mail amidst an aging or unproven supporting cast. But where better to prove one’s self or turn back the clock than in the post-season? Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry used to routinely feast on the Flames whilst donning the silks of their old California clubs. Old Flames friend Blake Comeau (remember him?) can still chip in at both ends. Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov are getting older, but they, too, have Flame-dousing histories. And then there are the kids: Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, and the three-headed monster of Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg, and Esa Lindell on defense. Plus, if Ben Bishop is fully healthy in net, he could single-handedly tilt this series for Dallas. The Stars often struggle to score, but Bishop and the kids on D are there just as often to win games for them. God help the Flames’ offense it runs into a hot goalie in the playoffs.
Stars in six.
PJ Parmar: Given the recent play of both teams, I suspect the Flames will dominate the Stars during this first round match-up. Dallas lost two of three round robin games and ended the regular season on a six game losing streak. Furthermore, the Stars have struggled immensely in the offensive zone, and against a red hot Cam Talbot these could struggles could continue. With that being said, the Flames will need to continue to put together a solid offensive effort as the Stars conceded the second least amount of goals during the regular season (174).
Flames in five.
Craig Petter: Esteemed top-six talent posed no problems for the Flames’ defense against the Jets (injured stars aside, of course) and Talbot is piping hot right now, so the Flames have no reason to be daunted by Benn, Radulov, etc. Plus, if Lucic/Bennett/Dube continue to excel both in the corners and on the scoresheet, and Hanifin/Andersson guard the crease with the same unflinching composure, the Flames have more depth slopped up their sleeve and should clean up at the table.
Flames in six.
Ryan Pike: In some ways, Dallas is a great match-up for the Flames. In other ways, they’re a lot tougher than Winnipeg. They’re experienced. They’ve got a great blueline group. They have underrated depth – the Texas Stars have quietly developed a lot of good pieces for them. They have two good goalies in Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. There’s a lot of things to like about Dallas as a hockey club, on paper.
But man, the Stars didn’t look all there in the round robin. They haven’t consistently had all their pieces playing together since the whole Return to Play thing got going. And the Flames have just battled through four games with Winnipeg, including playing three games in four nights (and four in six). The Stars haven’t had to deal with all that yet, between the spaced out round robin stage and the less intense pace of play. The Flames are warmed up and somewhat battle-tested. Dallas? Not as much, and that probably makes a sliver of a difference that decides the series.
Flames in seven.
Mike Wilson: This is the closest match-up of the first round on paper. Unlike the Jets, Dallas was one of the top defensive clubs during the regular season AND had excellent goaltending. Pick your poison with Bishop and Khudobin: both had great seasons and the Stars had the best 5v5 save percentage of any team in the league. It’s not going to be as easy for the Flames to generate offense against an elite defending team with great netminding. The Stars have struggled 5v5 to generate offense, however, and rely on their power play to score. Much like the Flames, the Stars big offensive guns have struggled this season.
Muddying things further is the fact that the Stars had a rough finish to the regular season and have struggled mightily in the Round Robin, specifically in their supposed area of strength: defending.
This series is going to be a slog and it’s going to come down to who can squeeze out the most offense. The 3M line will need to continue to be a dominant even-strength driver but, more importantly, the top line needs to, NEEDS to, get back to being an elite scoring line. The Flames cannot be reliant on the bulk of their offense coming from the third line. Johnny Gaudreau needs to be as dangerous as ever for the Flames to have success against the Stars.
It’s going to be razor close. Dallas has the major edge in net and is a solid defensive club but I think the Flames have the firepower to compete. My smart brain says Dallas, my “it’s 2020” brain says Calgary.
Flames in six.