The NHL playoffs in 2020 roll through to the semifinals of the conference that begin on August 22nd. The Colorado Avalanche takes on the Dallas Stars.
The Avs defeated the Stars 4-0 in the round robin portion of the postseason, but the Stars won all four matchups in the regular season (including one in overtime and one in a shootout). That’s what Nathan MacKinnon & Co. will do. continue the offensive attack from their dominance of the Coyotes, or have they met their game in the defensively sound Dallas Forest?
Note: Advanced stats are from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey
More: Watch the full NHL postseason schedule here.
What we learned in the quarterfinals: The Stars have passed a major character test in eliminating the Calgary Flames in six games. Sure, they got a while when Matthew Tkachuk was injured, causing the beating heart to rip out of the Flames’ chests. But it was a tight-knit, at times brutal, series that culminated in a Dallas seven with seven goals after they went down 3-0 in Game 6. They unexpectedly showed good offensive chops and only hints at how good they can be defensively – although having no. 1-goal-scorer Ben Bishop for much of the “unfit to play” series could have contributed to that.
The Avalanche? They were who we thought they were, owning their series against a mighty Arizona Coyotes team that needed 49 saves from Darcy Kuemper to win one game. The last two games of the five-game series were an evisceration, with Colorado outscoring Arizona by a margin of 14-2. (Hey, at least the Cardinals have got some security.)
First line: Both teams have reunited the most famous versions of their top lines for the post season. Nathan MacKinnon (4 goals, 9 assists), Gabriel Landeskog (8 assists) and Mikko Rantanen (3 goals, 7 assists) combined for six goals on 5-on-5 and did not score in eight games, with an expected goal- for advantage of 71.66%. That’s a trio that can take over games on their own, as Arizona discovers the hard way. Dallas loaded with Tyler Seguin (3 assists), Alexander Radulov (2 goals, 1 assist) and Jamie Benn (2 goals, 2 assists) for seven games. They outscored opponents 4-1 and had an expected goal advantage of 54.89% at 5-on-5. They are a talented trio. However, they are not the MacKinnon line. Advantage: Avs
Depth: The two leading goal scorers of the Stars in the playoffs are not to be found on their top line. Rookie Denis Gurianov has six goals, four of which come in that Game 6 rally, while playoff hero Joe Pavelski has six of his own. They have skated with Mattias Janmark and Joel Kiviranta. Roope Hintz, who sometimes struggles, has a line with Jason Dickinson and the always entertaining Corey Perry. Radek Faksa, Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau are an effective control line. The Avalanche invested last summer in their depth, and it paid off: Center Nazem Kadri has six goals and five assists for 11 points, second on the team. He has seen time with Andre Burakovsky (8 points) and Joonas Donskoi (6 points), both of whom were added last summer. Matt Calvert, Matt Nieto and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are a solid control line. JT Compher, Tyson Jost and re-defensive ace Valeri Nichushkin are also in the mix. Advantage: Band
Defense: This series features two of the best young defenders in the NHL, who were taken on consecutive spots in the 2017 NHL draft. The Stars’ Miro Heiskanen (3rd overall) leads the team by 12 points the postseason and plays 26:06 on average with partner Jamie Oleksiak; the Avs’ Cale Makar (4th overall) has seven points, averaging 21:42 per game with partner Ryan Graves. But Dallas has another star blueliner above Heiskanen in John Klingberg, who has seven points in the postseason and forms an effective duo with Esa Lindell. Andrej Sekera and Taylor Fedun run it out, while Stephen Johns has been “unfit to play” for five games. Colorado’s defensive depth includes Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard, Ian Cole and the well-dressed Nikita Zadorov. All of their pairings played well at 5-on-5. Advantage: Stars
Goal Tending: Bishop won Game 2 for Dallas, but it was Anton Khudobin (.919 save percentage) who started the rest of them against Calgary while Bishop was sidelined. Something went awry when Bishop scored four goals in each of his two appearances in the offseason. Colorado had one of the best goal pandemics in the NHL with Philipp Grubauer (.937 save percentage in the playoffs) and Pavel Francouz (.958), and nothing has happened to change that perception. With Bishop not quite a bishop at the moment, the Avalanche gets the nod. Advantage: Avs
Coaching: Dallas interim coach Rick Bowness is the third coach in NHL history to win a playoff series at age 65 or older. His work has not been without criticism – such as his covert use of the explosive Denis Gurianov – but he helped lead the Stars to a hard-fought series win. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has a very good sense of how this roster is put together, a solid presence behind the bench and is a bit underrated if we are honest. Advantage: Avs
Special teams: Colorado finished 19th on the power play in the regular season, mostly due to injuries. Now healthy, they are at an absolute heater: They have posted a conversion of 30.6%, the best in the playoffs through eight games. Dallas is not slouch at 20.0% in nine games. Colorado has a little better than average penalty kill, although the 88.0% success rate had a lot to do with Arizona’s unhappiness. The Stars’ penalty kick was at noon in the regular season (17th) and the postseason (76.7%). Advantage: Avs
Prediction: Avalanche in sand. This has the makings of a fantastic series, as the Cagey veterans of the Stars and stout defense have a battle against a Colorado team that has absolutely looked like it since the tournament began. An overtime is not out of the question, but seeing Colorado’s special teams, health and top-line benefits, they find a way to win here.