Thanks to a crazy series of events, the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars are set to meet in a round one playoff series for the second time in three years and just the third time ever. Dallas beat Calgary in six games en route to playing in the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals, while both teams missed the playoffs last season. The Flames went 2-0-1 in three regular season games against the Stars, but as we know, that doesn’t always mean much in the postseason.
So… a few questions to set us up for a 2020 rematch!
Will the top lines go head-to-head?
It’s playoff time, which means line matching and games within the game come to the forefront. Tops on my intrigue list is how much Calgary’s top line of Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau, and Matthew Tkachuk will see Dallas’s top trio of Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski. These two lines were among the very best in the NHL during the regular season.
Both lines finished near the top of the league in all the measurable outputs above, with the one big disparity coming in their usage: Lindholm’s line saw more even distribution at five-on-five compared to the Hintz group. Most interestingly, these were the NHL’s top two lines in ice time together during the regular season by a fairly significant margin.
Based on the last two games the Flames and Stars played, we can extrapolate these two lines will see a lot of one another. With last change on Feb. 1, Dallas head coach Rick Bowness got Hintz and company out against Lindholm every chance he could despite losing the possession battle in a lopsided fashion.
When these two teams met in Calgary on Apr. 21, Darryl Sutter wasn’t as aggressive with the matchup but still opted to put his top line out against Dallas’s more than a third of the time. Could that give us some clues as to how things will play out in a best-of-seven series? I certainly hope so.
How fresh is Jacob Markstrom?
With 63 starts and 3695:50 minutes played, Markstrom was one of the NHL busiest goalies during the regular season. In saying that, Sutter and the Flames really eased up on Markstrom’s workload down the stretch. Dan Vladar started four of Calgary’s last six games, which also saw Markstrom play just once in a span of two weeks (including today).
We all know there’s a balance to strike between rest and rust going into the playoffs, but I think the Flames did a pretty good job here. Markstrom’s practice habits and competitive level is elite, so I’m not worried at all about him not being sharp for game one. I also think his rest levels were managed well down the stretch, so I’m expecting a fresh Markstrom come Tuesday night.
Is Jake Oettinger the real deal?
Oettinger started the season in the American League as the Stars had an overload between the pipes. Upon being recalled in November, though, the 2017 first-round pick gradually took over as the team’s number one and cemented himself there in the second half. In fact, after the All-Star break, only Markstrom had more wins (20) than Oettinger’s 19.
In his 30 starts after the break, Oettinger went 19-10-1 with a 0.916 save percentage and one shutout. The 23-year-old seems locked in as the goalie of the future for the Stars, but how will he do as the playoff goalie in the present? With a little less than 40 minutes of playoff experience, which came in relief in 2020, I’m fascinated to see how Oettinger performs as THE guy two seasons later.
Can Tyler Toffoli flip the switch?
Toffoli went without a goal and posted three points in his final ten games of the regular season. Overall, Calgary’s most significant addition this season had two goals and five points in 15 games during the month of April, which has some a little concerned heading into the playoffs.
I get it. Toffoli wasn’t as much of an impact maker in the final month, even when looking at his underlying metrics. But this guy was brought in as much for how could he help the Flames in the playoffs as anything else. With 76 career postseason games to his name, I’ll start being worried about Toffoli if we’re still having this conversation by, like, game five.
How much of a factor will Miro Heiskanen be?
Heiskanen is one of the NHL’s most dynamic and exciting defencemen, so he’s obviously going to be a factor in this series. But, Calgary has to make him less of a factor than he was in the six games these two teams played in the summer of 2020. Looking back, the Flames didn’t have an answer for Heiskanen for a good chunk of that series.
Heiskanen averaged 27:28 of ice time against Calgary in August 2020 and finished with three goals and eight points in six games. With the departure of Jamie Oleksiak, the Stars aren’t as deep on the blueline as they were the prior few seasons, so you can bet Heiskanen is going to play a ton. Let’s see how Calgary deals with him this time around.
Who has the special teams edge?
In a best-of-seven with hard matching, we see things get sawed off at five-on-five for long periods of time. As such, even more importance is placed on power play and penalty kill units, which should favour the Flames here. At least if you go by how things played out over 82 regular season games.
Looking at power play results, and personnel, I don’t think there’s a huge gap between Calgary and Dallas. But if the Flames can be as good on the PK as they were for the vast majority of the season, this has a chance of being a big swing spot in the series.
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