The Dallas Stars were ready to go at the start of Game 4 on Sunday night and the Colorado Avalanche … well … they simply were not. And that turned out to be enough to swing the game, and potentially the entire series.
Thanks to a dominant first period and an opportunistic power play, the Stars were able to pick up a 5-4 to jump out to a stunning 3-1 series lead over the Avalanche.
Dallas will have a chance to close out the series on Monday night (9:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN; Livestream).
A win would give the Stars their first Western Conference Finals appearance since the 2007-08 season.
Sunday’s game was all about the first period where the Stars were able to jump all over the Avalanche, scoring three goals in the first ten minutes and holding the Avalanche without a single shot on goal for the first 19 minutes. It does not matter how talented your team is, it is tough to climb back out of that sort of hole. And the Avalanche were never able to do it.
Penalties played a significant role in that slow start, as Nazem Kadri was sent to the box on two different occasions in the first 10 minutes. The Stars turned both of those power plays into goals. It was not until the end of the first period that the Avalanche started to get things back on track and they were even able to cut the deficit to a single goal going into the third period.
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
But midway through the period the Avalanche surrendered another power play goal after a Tyson Jost goal, which was then followed by a horrendous Cale Makar turnover that gave Denis Gurianov one of the easiest goals of his career. Those two goals came less than a minute apart and ended up being the difference in the game.
That Gurianov goal resulted in Colorado replacing starting goalie Pavel Francouz with backup Michael Hutchinson. Francouz has struggled in this series since taking over for the injured Philipp Grubauer as injuries have mounted for the Avalanche.
The most stunning part of the Stars’ success in this series isn’t the fact they have won three of the first four games and are on the verge of moving on. This is a good team that was in double overtime of Game 7 of the Second Round a year ago against St. Louis. They have the goaltending, they have two No. 1 defensemen in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg on their defense, and they have some high-end forwards on their top line that can hurt you when they are clicking.
What is stunning is the way the Stars are winning these games.
All season the Stars were one of the worst offensive teams in the and entered the playoffs as one of the lowest scoring teams in the Return To Play. It was not a stretch to worry about whether or not it would be their Achilles Heel that could keep them from going on some kind of a run, especially after they struggled to score goals in the Round-Robin phase (just five goals in the three games).
If they were going to win, it was going to have to be a low-scoring, grind-it-out style of play. At least that was the thought.
But once they got into the First Round against Calgary something just started to click for them. With Sunday’s win in the books the Stars have now scored 40 goals(!) in their first 10 playoff games. Nobody saw that coming.
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (DAL leads 3-1)
Game 1: Stars 5, Avalanche 3 (recap)
Game 2: Stars 5, Avalanche 2 (recap)
Game 3: Avalanche 6, Stars 4 (recap)
Game 4: Stars 5, Avalanche 4
Game 5: Monday, Aug. 31, 9:45 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6: Wednesday, Sept. 2 – TBD
*Game 7: Friday, Sept. 4 – TBD
MORE STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round schedule
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.