It was less than two years ago when the Dallas Stars entered the bubble and marched to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they ultimately lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, during this playoff run, it was evident that Dallas’ defensive style was made for the playoffs.
In 2020, the Stars’ playoff series began with a first-round win over the Calgary flames. However, despite Dallas’ recent playoff success and the outcome of that recent series, it is the Flames who enter the 2022 playoffs as significant favorites to win the series and advance. Calgary is at -300 to deal with Dallas and advance to Round 2.
How these teams got here
The Calgary Flames finished the season with 50 wins and 111 points, earning them the Pacific Division crown. The Flames finished with the league’s sixth-best record and the Western Conference’s third-best record behind the Colorado avalanche and Minnesota Wild. The Dallas Stars finished the year with 98 points, making them one of only three playoff teams in the league to qualify without reaching the 100-point mark. Dallas retained the Vegas Golden Knights during the last week of the season in order to earn a wildcard spot.
The standings tell you the Flames are the best team in this series, and if you look under the hood, the metrics add up. The puck possession and shot generation metrics paint a picture of an elite team versus an average team.
According to Natural Stat Tip, the Flames finished third in the league in expected goal ratio (XG), finishing with a 56% mark. Only the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers finished ahead of Calgary. On the other hand, Dallas finished with the 13th best XG rate in the league, at just under 51%.
If you break it down even further, nothing changes. Calgary was elite on both sides of the puck, while the Stars were average. Calgary ranked fourth in XG scored per hour at five-on-five, while the Stars ranked 14th. On the defensive side, Calgary ranked third while Dallas ranked 11th.
Calgary is a complete team and dominates on both sides of the ice, which is why it’s a big favorite bet to win this series. However, Dallas is formidable on both sides of the puck and projects like a badass, even against a team that is shaping up to be superior.
Break down lists
When you look at these two teams, you have to start at the top. Dallas and Calgary feature two of the best lines in the league.
At the age of 37, Dallas’ Joe Pavelsky is coming off the most productive season of his great career with 81 points in 82 games. Roope Hintz plays center down the line, a fluid two-way player who has contributed 72 points on the year. On the other side is Jason Robertson, a 22-year-old who played at more than a point-per-game pace in his second full season. Robertson is quickly becoming a league star, and his linemates have been a big part of that. The line controls the game when on the ice and is the focal point of Dallas’ offensive attack. However, it may not be the best first line in this series.
The Calgary Flames Line Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm all have reached the 40-goal mark this regular season. Gaudreau’s 115 points are tied for second in the league and rank him only behind Connor McDavid. Gaudreau’s name has come up in Hart Trophy talks, although he is unlikely to win it ahead of McDavid or Auston Matthews. Tkachuk also eclipsed the 100-point mark and became one of the best power forwards in the sport. The center of the two is Elias Lindholm, who scored 42 goals and 82 points while playing a good two-way game.
The first two lines are elite, but the Calgary line plans to be a bit better than the Dallas line. We won’t know until they hit the ice, but it will be a fun game to watch.
The problem for Dallas comes behind the front lines. The Flames have Andrew Mangiapane, a 35-goal scorer and defensive pest anchoring the second line alongside Tyler Toffoli, a six-time 20-goal scorer with two Stanley Cup rings. Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and Calle Jarnkrok are good two-way players scattered across Calgary’s middle six.
For Dallas, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are half the players they were. Denis Gurianov did not develop as well as many had hoped, and Alexander Radulov’s goal-scoring ability completely disappeared. While Dallas’ first line can keep up with Calgary’s, it’s hard to see Dallas’ last nine forwards hanging on to the Flames.
On the defensive side, Dallas probably has the best defenseman in the series in Miro Heiskanen. However, the gap between Heiskanen and Rasmus Andersson or Noah Hanifin isn’t as big as some might think. Both teams have good defensive depth and it’s safe to call these units a wash.
Another advantage for Calgary is between the pipes. Jacob Markstrom finished the season ranked third in goals-against average, fourth in save percentage and first in shutouts. He posted a +16.1 goals saved above the expectation mark (GSAx), according to Evolution-Hockey, who ranked fifth best in the league. Markstrom is one of the best goaltenders in the league when he plays, and he has been this year.
For Dallas, Ben Bishop, Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin have all retired, been waived or injured in the past few months. The trick now belongs to 23-year-old Jake Oettinger, who was solid in his second NHL season. He posted a +0.5 GSAx mark on the year, meaning he’s playing about as well as he should be playing. Nevertheless, although the goalkeeper is not a problem for the Stars, the goalkeeper is a strength for the Flames.
How to bet the series
As mentioned earlier, Dallas projects as a badass. They’re a solid defensive team with playoff experience. We saw in the 2020 bubble how difficult the Stars can be to play against. They have the ability to frustrate teams and achieve low score wins. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Calgary Flames are coached by Darryl Sutter, a coach who used exactly that style of hockey to win two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.
Calgary is a strong -300 favorite in this series, a price I’m not willing to put on a sport filled with inexplicable bounces and jaw-dropping results. If you want to bet on the Flames, it’s probably best to find a creative way to bet them.
Calgary is -130 to win Game 1 of the series and then eliminate the Stars. the Flames are a -225 favorite in Game 1so it’s a way to cut the juice on both a match 1 and streak bet.
The Flames are -150 favorites to cover the 1.5-game series, which means they win the series in six games or less. Stars are +125 to at least force a Game 7. Calgary is +475 to sweep and +260 to win in five.
Dallas is built for the playoffs and that could make for a good series. If you want to support the Stars to avoid surprise, Dallas is +250 to win the series.