The Dallas Stars captured the first game of the series against the Nashville Predators in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night.
Wednesday night had been a long time coming for the Dallas Stars—not just since they secured a playoff spot over the Philadelphia Flyers a week ago—but for the past several seasons.
And when they returned to the playoff stage for the first time since 2016, they wanted to start the postseason on a strong note.
But the game didn’t begin that way.
The Predators came out of the gate with a strong physical presence early on—the most obvious example being a monstrous hit from Brian Boyle on Jason Dickinson early on in the game.
And for the first period, it looked as if the Predators were to tear into the Stars physically, mentally, and offensively. But, that didn’t happen. They did allow a goal from Preds captain Roman Josi shortly after the midway point through the opening period, and they did take some hits, but after 20, the score was only 1-0 in favor of Nashville.
Coming into the second and third period, the nerves buzzing about in the visitor’s locker room had been settled, and the Stars returned to natural form. Goals from Miro Heiskanen, Alexander Radulov (Heiskanen originally was given credit for the Stars’ second goal, but it was later changed to Radulov’s score) and Mats Zuccarello pushed Dallas into the lead and eventually to a game one victory.
The Stars defense was dominant during the regular season, and that continues to be the case as Dallas gets familiar in the playoffs. But the underlying message of tonight’s game rings clear—the Dallas Stars certainly deserve to be in the playoffs, and they are a force to be reckoned with in the postseason; even if they’re just 29th in the league in scoring.
The Stars are in a unique position this postseason—in that, they’re a wild card team, but they can compete for the Stanley Cup just as much as almost any other team in the playoffs. Jim Nill and his coworkers in the Stars’ organization set it up that way; with the right combination of youth skill, veteran presence, a strong blue line, superior goaltending, and occasional scoring, the Dallas Stars might be in the perfect spot to set themselves up for a deep playoff run.
That being said, we’re only through the opening game, and surviving the first round will be no easy feat; especially with an opponent like the Predators. Nashville is a strong defensive team and can go on an offensive tear when they have momentum. But, the fact that Dallas was able to set the tone of the series with a win in Nashville’s arena, in front of their fans, and on the first night of the playoffs sends a message that they’re not here by accident—but instead by fate.
With that, here are some brief takeaways and notes from Wednesday night’s game.
Major takeaways from game one
1. Ben Bishop kept the Stars alive throughout the game
The American netminder proved yet again that he is one of the top goaltenders in the National Hockey League. Bishop ended the game with 30 saves on 32 shots, including several bursts of saves from a resilient Nashville offense.
This series is going to be fought in the trenches, including the people between the pipes. So far, Ben Bishop has matched—or even outperformed—the play of Pekka Rinne.
As of now, Bishop has the Preds’ number.
2. Don’t underestimate the potential of Roope Hintz
Dallas Stars forward Roope Hintz had several lucrative chances in the game to score goals, including a play in the second period in which he drove to the net, cut from left to right, and attempted to slip the puck through Rinne. The puck stopped on the goal line, and Rinne was able to nudge the puck away with his left skate blade. Hintz led the Stars in shots with six.
It looked like the Predators defense didn’t expect Hintz to have that extra gear of speed—and he burned them a couple of times. Expect Nashville to take notice of that, but don’t think for a second that just because Hintz didn’t score that he’ll stop crashing the net and trying to make plays.
3. Heiskanen’s offensive output able to push Dallas over the top
Miro Heiskanen provided most of the Stars’ offense in the game, with a goal and an assist.
“Play my game and try to do my thing,” Heiskanen said following the victory. “Try to do my best and don’t think about it’s a playoff game. Do my thing and enjoy it.”
Heiskanen finished the regular season at fifth on the team in points (33) with 12 goals and 21 assists.
Throughout the game, Heiskanen and fellow teammate Roope Hintz were the magnets of several hits from Nashville Predators players. Reason being is that the preds know they’re young players with minimal playoff experience. But, both looked to have had the poise in game one to show that you don’t need to be a 33-year-old veteran to play well in the postseason.
4. Based off of Game 1, physical play will be the difference maker in the series
The Predators and Stars both spent time in the penalty box on Wednesday night. Dallas had a total of ten penalty minutes, while the Predators had eight. Although there were no fights, there were several scuffles after whistles, including a shoving match in the neutral zone after John Klingberg delivered a few shots to the back of Viktor Arvidsson. Nashville also had 24 hits in the game compared to Dallas’ 10.
The Predators looked physical from the start of the game, and chances are they’ll use that to their advantage throughout the rest of the series. Dallas’ success in games relies on speed and skill—whether that be from Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, or John Klingberg—and the Predators know this. Thus, Nashville will most likely try to disrupt Dallas’ flow on offense with more physicality to throw the Stars off their game. In order for the Stars to thrive in this series, they need to replicate the same physicality being thrown at them. In order to beat a predator, you can’t be their prey. The next few games will determine whether Dallas will ramp up the intense play or if they’ll succumb to the physical presence that the Predators so clearly exhibited in the first meeting of the playoffs between the two teams.
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The Dallas Stars will face the Predators in Game 2 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night, where Nashville will look to even the series, while Dallas will look to double their lead and get one step closer to a Stanley Cup.