The Big Mac Blog

Series win exposes best and worst of Dallas Stars

Stars GT Kari Lehtonen was a fraction of an inch of away from going to OT on Sunday against the Wild with this last second “block” to perseve a 5-4 lead. The Stars won the game and the series to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Stars GT Kari Lehtonen was a fraction of an inch of away from going to OT on Sunday against the Wild with this last second “block” to perseve a 5-4 lead. The Stars won the game and the series to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. TNS

The last time the Dallas Stars advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Jamie Benn was two years old, and coach Lindy Ruff was a player in juniors.

None of the above is true, of course, even if it feels that way. The last time the Stars advanced to the second round was 2008 - when forward Brendan Morrow was their best player, Marty Turco was their goalie and Dave Tippett their coach. Morrow recently retired from the NHL, Turco is part of the Stars’ broadcast team and Tippett is running things with the Coyotes.

Everyone, in fact, is gone from that ‘08 team. Hell, even the jerseys are different.

There is indeed much rejoicing in Starsville after their unnecessarily close third period in their Game 6, series-closing win against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday in St. Paul.

That game should never have been close after the Stars took a 3-0 first period lead. Alas, the Stars won and when you have gone this long without a series win that’s a big deal and it merits a little party.

The first round series was basically the Stars, good and bad: Jamie Benn is one of the best players in the league, they can score, and they have a dynamic power play. Their defense and their goaltending are completely untrustworthy.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff continued rotating his Finnish goalies in the playoffs just has he did during the regular season and at no point in these six games were either Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi great. They ranged from bad to good.

Their playoff stats so far:

Lehtonen: 3-1, 2.27 goals against average, .911 save percentage

Niemi: 1-1, 3.36 goals against average, .870 save percentage

This is the first time Lehtonen, who has been in the NHL since 2003, won a playoff series. He had been a member of some awful Atlanta Thrashers teams and when he arrived to the Stars in 2009 the team was rebuilding.

Lehtonen looked pretty good in Games 1 and 2 but he did so against a Wild team that had not begun to push. Niemi was good in Game 4, and horrendous in Game 5.

It does not help that the defense in front of them often left both men exposed for good scoring chances. In the NHL playoffs, however, at times the goalie has to be the U.S. Government and bail out everything. And Mexico is not going to pay for it.

These guys have to be better.

There were glaring mistakes by the likes of defenseman Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg and a few others that in a series where the margin of error is nil cannot happen if the team expects to win another round.

There is no way the Stars can play the way they did against the Wild and expect to defeat the winner of the St. Louis Blues/Chicago Blackhawks series.

Not that this means a thing now, but the Stars were 4-1 against the Blackhawks in the regular season and 1-1-3 against the Blues.

The better draw for the Stars is this era’s modern dynasty, the Blackhawks. Both teams play a more uptempo style with speed, and can skate all day.

St. Louis is a heavy, punishing team coached by a man who believes hockey is a fight - Ken Hitchcock. The Blues are a much better version of the Wild.

The Stars should celebrate this series win but they are not going to be favored against either the Blackhawks or the Blues.

Benn, and their entire offense, will give them a chance against the Blackhawks but their goaltending and their defense must be better to celebrate another series win this spring.

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