Wild-Stars Series Preview
In an opening-round landscape cluttered with familiar pairings, there’s one refreshing exception. It also has the potential to ignite more fisticuffs in the stands than on the ice.
On Thursday night at American Airlines Center top-seeded Dallas and Minnesota kick off their highly awaited series. Online sports book Bovada.lv gives Lindy Ruff’s crew odds of -270 to survive and advance in the Western Conference. The Wild, on the other hand, represent +230 underdogs to book a third straight trip to the semifinals.
This marks the first playoff meeting between the two franchises, which share a tangled history. The Stars actually originated in Minnesota before relocating to the Lone Star State for the 1993-94 season. Minnesota eventually landed a new team, the Wild, when expansion arrived in 2000-01. Yet many hockey fans in the Twin Cities won’t ever forget those beloved North Stars in the first place.
Aside from juicy ancillary angles, the on-ice material could hardly be more compelling. Dallas outlasted St. Louis to claim the Central Division and will battle for the Stanley Cup for just the second time in eight years. Jamie Benn followed up an Art Ross Trophy-winning campaign by registering 41 goals and 48 assists. His chief sidekick, Tyler Seguin, produced similar offensive excellence until he suffered an Achilles injury on March 14.
Even with the star center status up in the air, though, the Stars boast an uncommon number of quality reinforcements. Patrick Sharp, who snared three championships with the Blackhawks, anchors a sterling second line. Jason Spezza looks like a drastically different player in his second year away from Ottawa. Then there’s the blue line, which features the fifth-highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL (John Klingberg) and another postseason veteran (ex-Chicago mainstay Johnny Oduya).
John Torchetti counters with a balanced roster that functions exceedingly well as a unit. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu lead the way at forward, but Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville have certainly earned additional responsibility in the preceding weeks. In net, Devan Dubnyk (32-26-6) remains the type of guy who’s capable of stealing a quartet of victories in a hurry. His brief struggles in January are a distant memory now.
Dallas doesn’t submit an official No. 1 goal, which, frankly, makes for a harder forecast here. Whether the man between the pipes is Kari Lehtonen (25-10-2) or Antti Niemi (24-13-7), however, the Stars will lean heavily on special teams. Benn captains the league’s fifth-best power play, a collection of talent that may ultimately swallow the Wild whole. Minnesota’s penalty-killing never found traction, finishing 27th in the league. That aspect, coupled with the fact that Dallas simply comes armed with a greater supply of game-breakers, should ensure a fairly short series.
SERIES NHL FREE PICK: STARS -270