Dallas Stars Stage Comeback to Take 2-0 Series Lead

The Dallas Stars took a commanding 2-0 lead on the Colorado Avalanche with a strong Game 2 win. The Stars proved that not only are the Avalanche not invincible, they continue to struggle after losing all four regular-season games and now the first two playoff games. Though the Avalanche outplayed them for most of the game, they weren’t able to stop the momentum that led to the Stars scoring four second-period goals and taking the lead in a game they would not relinquish. The Avalanche were without two key pieces in Erik Johnson and Philipp Grubauer, while the Stars had no significant injuries.

Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Miro Heiskanen continues to lead the NHL playoffs with 14 points and Dallas, surprisingly, has the most points by defensemen at 30. While Cale Makar has 8, the defense for the Avalanche have just 19. This is one of many interesting story-line developments in this series. Here are a few more:

Battle of the Backups

With Ben Bishop once again unfit to play in Game 2 and Grubauer out indefinitely, the series has come down to the battle of very capable backups. Before the playoffs, there was some debate as to who deserved to be the starter for the Avalanche as Pavel Francouz had played well down the stretch as Grubauer suffered an injury at the Stadium Series game on Feb. 15, 2020. (from ‘Grubauer or Francouz? Avalanche have goalie flexibility facing back-to-back playoff games,’ Denver Post, 08/13/2020)

Pavel Francouz Colorado Avalanche
Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

According to Evolving Hockey, both Anton Khudobin and Francouz were able to save more goals than expected in 2019-20. Khudobin was good for six goals above expected and Francouz three. Khudobin outperformed Francouz as he faced the heavier workload with the Avalanche firing 40 shots on goal to the Stars’ 27. Digging a little deeper, according to Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche had 11 high-danger scoring chances to the Stars’ 6, as well as having a higher expected goals. If the Stars are going to win the series, Khudobin needs to continue to outduel Francouz — if the regular season is any indication, he can do it.

Special Team Swings

Special teams often play a big role in playoff games and this was especially true in Game 2. The Avalanche came out buzzing and scored on their first two power-play opportunities. Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were central to both goals as Rantanen set up MacKinnon on the first one and vice versa for the other. At this point in the game, it looked like the Avalanche were going to throttle the Stars.

Nathan MacKinnon scores the first goal of the game on the power play on a nifty pass from Mikko Rantanen.

In the second period, the Stars looked to have a bit more jump, but it was still mostly the Avalanche dominating the play. This all changed in the middle of the period when the Avalanche took back-to-back penalties when Samuel Girard was called for slashing and Ian Cole for interference. The Stars scored on power plays both at 5-3 and 5-4 to tie the game. All even.

Joe Pavelski cuts the Avalanche lead to one on a 5-3 power play.

Just a couple of minutes later, the Stars looked to be returning the favor when Andrew Cogliano slashed Girard and Blake Comeau shot the puck over the glass. The ensuing 5-on-3 yielded nothing for the Avalanche. In fact, after the first two conversions, the Avalanche power play failed to convert going 2-8 in the game.

Esa Lindell with an impressive individual effort to give the Stars a two goal lead.

Killing off that 5-on-3 seemed to energize the Stars as captain Jamie Benn scored off of Alexander Radulov’s body a few minutes later, and Esa Lindell pushed the lead to four just before the end of the period with an incredible individual effort. The Stars wrestled the momentum away from the Avalanche just long enough to put in all four of their goals before relinquishing it in the third period. The Stars were able to hold off the surging Avalanche in the third period, relying on their stifling defense.

Are the Avalanche Part of the 13.5%?

According to Hockey-Reference, teams that are down 2-0 in the NHL playoffs have only come back to win 13.5% of the time. Those are terrible odds for a team that was heavily favored in this matchup. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Avalanche up 2-0 on the Stars, but it is definitely unexpected to have the tables turned. The Stars will absolutely have to keep their “A” game as the Avalanche are a team that could turn this series around and win.

Pivotal Game 3

While 13.5% odds are not great, only four teams in NHL history have ever come back from being down 3-0. The Stars will absolutely see the best the Avalanche have to offer in Game 3. They have had almost no depth scoring and that will need to change if they are going to get back in this series. Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen — as good as they are — cannot be the only ones who score if they hope to move on.

Related: Ottawa Senators’ 2009 Draft Review

The Avalanche were the home team for the first two games, and now the Stars will get to match lines as they please. Things will only get tougher from here for the Avalanche and all the pressure is now squarely on their shoulders. We will learn what kind of team they are in Game 3.

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