In the spirit of the “Three Stars” hockey tradition, two events happened Saturday night that should give you the belief that the Dallas Stars’ return to the playoffs will reach at least the Western Conference Finals, while a third requires further information.
1. Stars All-Star center Tyler Seguin returned to the lineup after missing the last 10 games of the regular season with a slightly cut Achilles tendon in his Achilles. Just writing that sounds painful.
2. The Stars scored a goal that defied science; it was the type of goal that makes you believe there are forces at work in this team’s favor in its eagerly awaited return to the playoffs.
3. Kari Lehtonen has allowed one goal in this series and still has not solidified himself as the clear No. 1 goalie.
Here is one more: No. 4. Jamie Benn is The Man of DFW. He is the best player on any team in town.
After their 2-1 win Saturday night, the Stars lead the best-of-seven first-round series 2-0, and it hasn’t been much to watch. The Minnesota Wild has absolutely nothing and should feel good if it can win one game in this series; injuries to forwards Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek have made this a playoff team in name only.
The NHL is all about parity these days, but this 1 vs. 8 matchup is as one-sided as an 8-1 should be both on paper and on the ice. Despite the close score, the Stars won Game 2 because the Wild is painfully overmatched.
Game 3 is Monday night in St. Paul, and expect a full-blown party if the Wild manages to tie the game at any point. The Wild should have had a 3-0 first-period lead Saturday but still has not led in this series.
We are in the greatness of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and yet it doesn’t quite feel like it here in Texas. Maybe in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and other towns, but despite a packed American Airlines Center, the building lacked the normal playoff energy, and not because of the fans.
The way this series has progressed, Game 2 of the Stars v. Wild postseason felt more like Game 22 of the regular season. There is no bite, or fight, to this series.
Nobody on the Stars is complaining about any of it. While the Blackhawks, Blues, Kings and Ducks have all sustained a few bruises in their respective first-round series, the Stars have skated through an event-free first two games.
With Seguin’s return, the Stars are healthy at a time of year when “upper body,” “lower body” and “flu-like symptoms” routinely pop up on injury reports.
In his first game back since March 17, Stars center Tyler Seguin played 15:40, including 4:45 on the power play.
Seguin did not score Saturday night, but the real achievement is that he played. He had not played since March 17, and this team needs him if it expects a prolonged playoff run.
“Stepping into a playoff game is much different than stepping into a regular-season game,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said.
Despite ample opportunity on the power play, the Stars’ first goal came on a 10.0 degree of even-strength difficulty.
Early in the second period, forward Antoine Roussel was behind the Wild net when the puck deflected off teammate Ales Hemsky’s skate. The puck then ricocheted off Roussel’s skate into the air and hit off the back of the mask of Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, hit between his shoulder blades and bounced across the goal line. It all happened as the net came off its moorings.
“I saw it cross the line, but you never know,” Roussel said.
The play was originally ruled no goal, but then it went to review. For a long time. Then it was ruled a good goal.
“I don’t know if anyone can really riddle me how that’s a goal in the National Hockey League,” Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said. “But it was.”
Son, let me tell you a story about a certain Dez Bryant playoff “catch” in Green Bay.
The Stars had a “commanding” 1-0 lead that expanded to 2-0 late in the third period when Benn scored on a nifty goal around a pair of defenders.
Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn has points in seven of eight career playoff games.
Even if Seguin is not at 100 percent, there is nobody in these playoffs who can deal with Benn. He is the rare combination of skill and brute force that is matchup hell for opponents.
While the questions about this team’s defense will persist until the next round, the big one remains firmly affixed to the goalie.
“Kari gave us a great game,” Ruff said.
Slow down there, champ. Kari gave the Stars a dynamic last three minutes when he was challenged with some scary chances and stopped them all. Until then, much like Game 1, the Wild didn’t show him much.
The Stars are not going to win a Stanley Cup rotating starts between Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. It has been decades since a team won a Cup splitting time between two goalies.
Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen has stopped 47 of 48 shots against the Wild in the postseason.
This is the chance for Lehtonen to prove he is a No. 1. He has never won a playoff series before, and he has not been asked to win a game by himself in this series. At some point he will have to stand on his head.
“This is something that you want to do every year, and as I’ve gotten older it’s not easy to even get [to the playoffs],” said Lehtonen, who stopped 25 of 26 shots. “I am not thinking if I don’t play the next game. I am trying not to think so much and not to be stupid.”
Through the first two games, the Stars have not been stupid. The Stars have been rather safe and are clearly the better team that should easily advance to the next round.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.
Stars at Wild
7:30 p.m. Monday, FSSW, CNBC