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2024 NHL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Dallas Stars vs. Colorado Avalanche

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 18: Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin (13) and Dallas Stars defenseman Ryan Suter (20) set up in front of goaltender Jake Oettinger (29) during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Colorado Avalanche on November 18, 2023 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)

Traditionally speaking, the last two winners of the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights series have gone on to progress to the Stanley Cup Final. In Dallas’ case, their immediate reward for slaying last years champion and looking to repeat the trend is a well-rested Colorado Avalanche squad that is forechecking as well as anyone remaining in contention right now. This series is one of many second round match-ups that feature two heavy hitters that are right in the mix to win the Stanley Cup from an odds perspective. Whereas you had a lot of dissimilarities between Colorado and Winnipeg in a match-up that featured an offensive powerhouse and a defensive juggernaut, we’re getting something a bit different this time. Recent history would have seen a Stars team that may have presented us with a similar dichotomy, as previous iterations of the Stars featured the same defense-first mantras as Winnipeg. However, make no mistake about it; this is a Dallas team that is good at puck possession, good at scoring, and has the offensive horses to get into a real back-and-forth battle with Colorado.

To that effect, I expect a lot of quick breakouts in this series and both teams to bring heavy forechecks with them into the battle areas of the ice. Colorado’s destruction of Winnipeg was largely driven by an exposure of Winnipeg’s defense and its lack of ability to operate under pressure. Colorado thrives in situations where they can get north in a hurry and create a bit of chaos in the opposition’s breakout. In this matchup, names like Thomas Harley, Miro Heiskanen, and Nils Lundkvist dot a Dallas blueline that is fully capable of skating or passing its way out of danger, despite the fact that Lundkvist’s minutes have been extremely managed and sheltered. Given the tenor of Dallas’ last series, I expect their defense to be up to the task of working around the Colorado forecheck. We saw from the first round that defensive specialists for Colorado were also capable of making these plays. Cale Makar, Josh Manson, and Sean Walker all exhibited calmness in the face of Winnipeg’s forecheck. Both of these teams will be looking to control the tempo of the game and create counter-attacking options from heavy forward presences in the opposition’s breakout.

With these teams featuring similar penalty-kill structures, I am excited to see which can break through and be a difference-maker in this series. The star power on both sides is going to be very real and I expect both teams to allow a wedge-like player to aggressively pressure the opposition power-play while the remaining group looks to tax any high-leverage passing lanes and converge on their respective goaltenders. The fact that these similarities exist make the special teams aspect of this series even more intriguing. For Dallas, they’ll need to find a way to get Roope Hintz on the scoresheet more than one time and the power-play could be the ticket to accomplishing that.


Jake Oettinger vs. Alexandar Georgiev

Fans and pundits were waiting with baited breath to see if Jake Oettinger’s performance in the stretch run of the regular season was an anomaly and turns out, it was not. Oettinger’s flexibility and quick reflexes were on display, especially in the later half of the series, as he rounded out with a 1.95 goals against average against a rather potent Golden Knights offense, the definition of hot hand. On the flip side, Georgiev had a forgettable start to the Jets series that saw Avalanche fans calling for him to be pulled before game two. The result was a complete turnaround of form for the next four games that saw him stabilize and calm down in the net. That will have to continue against a Stars team that features pure snipers up and down the lineup. If Oettinger remains dialed in while Georgiev struggles, this could be a short series. On the flip side, if Colorado can continue to attack in transition and create odd-man breaks, Oettinger will be tested in major way. The easiest way to disturb a dialed-in netminder is to score some garbage-quality goals, and the Avalanche are fully equipped to do just that.

The Mittelstadt Line vs. The Johnston Line

I fully expect to see large swaths of this series where the opposing coaches opt to go power-for-power and directly line match as opposed to looking for specialized deployments. If that is the case, the Dallas Stars will need more out of Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski on their second line. Wyatt Johnston has been a revelation for them and is as good of an off-puck player as you’ll find out there, but Casey Mittelstadt, Artturi Lehkonen, and Zach Parise are coming off of some dominant performances versus Winnipeg. While Benn and Pavelski have struggled to get going, Lehkonen scored in every single game of the Jets series. The Avalanche second line is intimidating and capable of long periods of possession in the offensive zone. Dallas will have to make sure their second line finds its scoring legs in order to keep this series from becoming lopsided.

Jason Robertson vs. Valeri Nichushkin

Both of these plays are phenomenal snipers and game-breakers in their own right. I expect a lot of fireworks between these two in terms of exchanging scoring chances and getting good looks at the net in high quality scoring chances. Robertson had a bit of a slower start with only three goals in his first seven games while Nichushkin blasted out of the game with seven goals in five games. These players are master manipulators with the puck and are cutting edge in terms of their release and snipe-ability. As critical pieces to their respective top lines, a trademark performance from either of these two players could significantly change the scope of this series.


Dallas Stars: Wyatt Johnston is your NHL leader in shots through the first round of the playoffs and has showcased why he’s such a 200-foot threat throughout the course of the year. Per NHL edge statistics, Johnston covered the third most distance of any player in the first round, a testament to his motor and off-puck ability to hunt down and pressure puck carriers and passing lanes. The breakout performance has been really fun to watch and if Dallas is going to win this series, they’re going to need more of the same from him moving forward. I expect Johnston would be in line for a promotion if the Stars top line shows signs of disarray and struggles to get going.

Colorado Avalanche: It seems like a cop-out to list Nathan MacKinnon here, but I haven’t mentioned him in this piece yet and he’s simply playing too well for me to not dive into it. MacKinnon showcased his ability to fool even the games best goaltender in round one by keeping his release hidden and posturing his body in unique ways that hide his next action. With Hintz struggling to score for Dallas, getting over the slump and onto the scoresheet becomes a lot harder when you have MacKinnon controlling the puck in the offensive zone for large periods of time. He only scored two in the first round but could have had a handful more.


Jake Oettinger has been downright stellar for Dallas in goal, and I expect him to continue to show fight into the second round. The Golden Knights tested him in transition shooting and crease-to-crease work, but he showed no leaks in either area. His work in high-danger save situations was strong from open to close in the first round. He’ll be under siege from a strong Colorado transition game and in-zone cycle, but he’s playing extremely large in the net and showcasing the mobility that created a buzz about his game in the first place. I have to give a tip of the hat to Jason Robertson here as well. With only two goals in the first round, you have to expect his shot is going to produce some serious scoring chances for Dallas in the round to come.

If you took Artturi Lehkonen as an anytime goal scorer in the first round, you’re probably retired on an island somewhere. The Avalanche forward scored in every game of the first round and is playing on a line that is controlling the game at even-strength with authority. There’s a potential mismatch here with a Dallas second line that hasn’t quite got going yet outside of Johnston’s performance at center. I have to wonder what Peter DeBoer does with Chris Tanev in this series. Has the Avalanche second line been good enough that we potentially see DeBoer throw Tanev at it, or will he take the big minutes against MacKinnon? That will ultimately effect Lehkonen, but it may not matter either way with how well he’s been driving to scoring areas.


I picked Dallas to win the Cup, so I have to stick with them here. Despite the stabilization we saw from Georgiev in goal, Oettinger is decidedly the better performer right now and gives Dallas a distinct advantage in net. I could see this series being another seven-gamer for Dallas, but I ultimately think they bring the battle-tested attitude they had from the Knights series right into this one. Facing down a 2-0 deficit, we saw Dallas become discernibly better in puck battles and breakouts. Their defensemen can shake their way out of danger and should be able to avoid some of the mistakes we saw Winnipeg make in turnovers in zone exits. I’ll take Dallas in seven games.