Stars have room to grow in playoffs

By David Mullen

The 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here. Let the beards begin.

This season, the Dallas Stars are front and center in the loaded NHL Western Conference playoffs. They qualified with an impressive 108-point season and missed the Central Division crown by a whisker. The Colorado Avalanche won the division by one point, primarily because of the Stars’ failure to win games in overtime. 

The tradition of not shaving during the Stanley Cup playoffs traces back to the early 1980s when the New York Islanders shelved their razors during an unlikely 1979-80 Stanley Cup playoff run. The Islanders made the playoffs despite only 91 regular season points, yet ultimately won their first of four consecutive NHL championships. 

The Islanders — an expansion team that infiltrated the “Original Six” New York Rangers turf in the 1972-73 season — were a second fiddle team from Long Island in search of an identity to compete with their bourgeoisie Broadway neighbors and the rest of the NHL. The beards implied toughness and a willingness to put personal hygiene aside. The Islanders’ look was “fresh” by definition, but they actually looked a tad clammy.

Today, sporting a beard during the playoffs has become an NHL ritual. The Stars are in a position to avoid the shaving soap for weeks. In his first year, Dallas coach Peter DeBoer has taken a talented group of uncompliant players and molded them into a solid, disciplined team that rallies behind goaltender Jake Oettinger. Despite regular season successes, DeBoer has never won a Stanley Cup, and the Stars haven’t raised the trophy since 1999.

The Stars’ first round opponents, the Minnesota Wild, make up for their lack of polish by playing aggressively and shadowing key players. They embody a rough and scrappy team. At the 12:20 mark in the second period of Game 1, Stars team leader Joe Pavelski took a brutal shoulder blow to the head from Wild defenseman Matt Dumba that knocked the Dallas center to the brink of unconsciousness. The frightening attack was captured on TV from many angles. Pavelski’s return to the starting lineup is unknown. 

Stars team leader Joe Pavelski took a brutal shoulder blow to the head from Wild defenseman Matt Dumba that knocked the Dallas center to the brink of unconsciousness.
Photo of courtesy of Joe Pavelski/Facebook

In Texas, a Class B Misdemeanor assault — an assault against someone who is a sports participant during a performance — that Dumba should be subjected to, has a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. In the NHL, Dumba got a two-minute penalty for roughing.

There is no clearcut favorite for the Stanley Cup Finals in the Western Conference. As evidence, every lower seed — the road team — beat the higher seed in each first game of the opening series. The Stars lost to the Wild at the AAC 3-2 in double overtime, continuing the disturbing trend of not being able to put teams away. This flaw could keep Dallas from winning the Western Conference.

Any team in the West could win the conference championship. Seven of the eight playoff teams had 100 regular season points or more. The competition is tough. How tough? In Game 1 of the Winnipeg Jets 5-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, Jets’ center Morgan Barron was sliced by a skate blade near the end of the second period, received 75 stitches and returned to play in the third period. Luckily for Morgan, finding a plastic surgeon in Las Vegas is not a difficult task.

The Avalanche are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They are a skilled team, but injuries have made them more vulnerable than in 2021-22. They face the Seattle Kraken, a 100-point team in only their second year. 

Since the NHL trading deadline, the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL’s top player Connor McDavid have played the best hockey and scored the most goals. Since March 1, they are 18-2-1. They face a Los Angeles Kings team with an excellent offense, but in search of consistent netminding. The Kings surprised the Oilers in a Game 1 overtime 4-3 win.

The road to the Eastern Conference championship leads down the Freedom Trail. The Boston Bruins’ regular season record was a historic 65-12-5 for 135 points, the most ever in the NHL. The Bruins are the favorites to win, setting up a Boston versus Carolina Hurricanes conference final. 

The Hurricanes are calm, but powerful. Carolina Hurricanes. Since Carolina plays in small media market Raleigh-Durham, the Bruins got all the Eastern Conference plaudits. Carolina is the team Boston must look out for down the road. Anything short of the Stanley Cup Finals would be wicked awful for Boston. 

Dallas ended the regular season in a flurry, and one cheap shot and a double overtime loss doesn’t define a playoff series. Despite losing Pavelski indefinitely, Dallas should still tame the Wild and advance in the playoffs. The Stars have all the tools to win the Western Conference title. Fans hope they won’t need a razor soon.