The Minnesota Wild were anxiously waiting until the final moments of the regular season to find out who they will be playing in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their opponent is the Dallas Stars.
Dallas has surprised many this season by finally finding a way to score on a regular basis. It allows them to truly take advantage of the strength throughout the roster they possess. And it led to a season that was much more successful than expected. They finished seventh in the league in goals for with 285. The most they have scored in a single season since 1989–90 when they had 284.
The Wild have shown that last season was not a fluke. When a whole bunch of players overperform and have career years at the same time, it always begs the question of sustainability. They did regress a bit, to the tune of 10 points year over year, but still finished a comfortable third in the division.
These two teams have not faced off in the playoffs since 2015–16, a series in which the Stars won 4–2. Given the roster turnover on both sides since then, there are only a few players remaining who even participated in that series. So this is largely uncharted territory for these two teams, and a matchup that should be a good battle.
Season statline and head-to-head matchup
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Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for % (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
Dallas Stars season storyline
The Stars organization is in the midst of an amazing glow-up. For years, this team was an offensive black hole. Where scoring went to die. And, random Stanley Cup Final run aside, it really held the team back.
But it seems now, with a changed offensive philosophy within the organization, that this issue may be a thing of the past. The Stars are now one of the more competitive teams offensively in the league.
They are led by Jason Robertson, who has set career highs with 46 goals and 109 points. His offensive explosion has been a catalyst for the team’s on-ice turnaround. Him and a new philosophy from new coach Peter Deboer.
Along with Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski have formed one of the most dominant lines in the league. The composition of this line is a team builder’s dream. A late career resurgence from Jamie Benn has given the Stars the depth scoring that they have been sorely lacking the past few seasons.
The Stars showed they can compete against a high-powered team in last season’s playoffs in which they kept it close to the Calgary Flames, in large part due to the play of Jake Oettinger. But now that the skaters have found some offensive touch, this squad could be a safe pick to challenge coming out of the Western Conference.
Minnesota Wild season storyline
Given how the team’s cap structure is at the moment, playing as well as they have is nothing short of impressive. The Wild have done an excellent job of maximizing value for their dollar in filling out their roster.
Their defence, led by some of the most underrated defenders in the league in Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin, and their insane goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson, have carried this team near the top of the Central Division standings.
Gustavsson has come out of nowhere this season to post a 2.10 GAA and .931 SV%, as well as finding himself seventh in the league in goals saved above expected in all situations (24.2) according to Moneypuck. These numbers are insanely impressive, especially given the general rise in goals scored and the subsequent drop in goalie stats this season.
They’ve been especially important as the Wild have struggled mightily at times with their depth scoring. Minnesota has relied almost entirely on Kirill Kaprizov’s presence on the ice to score. They’ve gone stretches of multiple games without managing to score a goal when he is not on the ice. The Wild will be in tough in this regard as they are the lowest scoring team to qualify for the playoffs.
With the strength of the aforementioned goaltending, the Wild managed to escape from these slumps relatively unscathed. And through the latter parts of the season, as Kaprizov has been out of the lineup due to injury, Minnesota has done just fine and has found offence from other parts of the lineup. Notably from Matt Boldy, who has stepped up in a big way and broken free of some bad puck luck earlier in the season that was limiting his point total despite strong performances.
One thing the Minnesota Wild have struggled with this past decade is playoff success. In the past 10 seasons, the Wild have made the playoffs nine times. They only made it past the first round twice. One thing that this version of the Wild has that those other teams didn’t is a legit offensive superstar.
Kaprizov is a talent like no other that the Wild have possessed, and the team’s offence goes through him. He led the Wild with 75 points in 67 games, the only Wild skater to hit 70 points. Only three other players for Minnesota hit 60 points. After that, it is a steep drop to the next highest-scoring player. If the Stars want to suppress the Wild, all they have to do is find a way to shut down their leading scorer.
On the other hand, the Stars’ offense far surpasses what the Wild can do, outscoring Minnesota by nearly half a goal per game during the regular season. Five players with 70+ points mean Dallas has players in various spots of the lineup that can contribute in a big way. It is going to be a challenge for Minnesota to contain the Stars’ offense, especially the top-producing line of Robertson–Hintz–Pavelski.
Considering this, it will be a battle for the defence and goaltending. The Wild know how to contain and limit chances, giving up the sixth-fewest goals against. But the Stars are even better as they gave up the third-fewest.
The one spot in the lineup that the Wild may have the advantage is in net. Gustavsson placed second in the league in GAA and SV% of goalies with more than 25 games played. Minnesota will have to rely on their defence to limit high danger chances and hope that the goaltending continues to perform as well as it had been during the regular season.
But again, Oettinger over in the Stars’ crease is no slouch. He is one of the best in the league and is noteworthy with his performance in last season’s playoffs with a .957 SV% and 1.67 GAA in seven games.
It may end up being a case of the Wild needing to try and play to 2–1 victories. If Kaprizov is shut down by the Stars’ defence, Minnesota will have trouble scoring and will have to grind their way through a bunch of low-scoring, goaltending-focused games. Otherwise, the Stars should have more than enough firepower to prevail.
4–2 Dallas Stars