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Stars playoff berth keyed by commitment to defense

Penalty kill, play of Bishop, Heiskanen, Radulov among reasons for postseason return

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Dallas Stars clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 6-2 at American Airlines Center on Tuesday.

A new coach, commitment to defense and big performances from veteran forwards helped spark the turnaround for Dallas (42-31-7), which had missed the postseason eight of the past 10 seasons and hasn't advanced past the second round since 2008.

Here are five reasons why the Stars clinched a playoff berth:


1. New coach, new system

Under first-year coach Jim Montgomery, the Stars moved away from an offensive-minded team to one focused on defense and goaltending, and it has paid off.

The Stars rank 28th in goals-per game (2.56) but are second in goals-against per game (2.42), behind the New York Islanders (2.38). Two seasons ago the Stars were 23rd in the NHL with a .919 save percentage at 5 on 5; this season they're first at .937.

"I think you look at the championship teams that have won in the NHL," Montgomery said when he was hired May 4. "The teams play a certain way. There's structure to their game but there's creativity and flair to it too. You have to let horses run. Everyone should look the same when we don't have the puck, and when we do have the puck everyone should play to their strengths."

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Stars clinch a playoff spot


2. Bishop rising

Ben Bishop has played at a Vezina Trophy level when healthy. He's 26-15-2 in 45 games. His .933 save percentage leads the NHL among goalies to have played at least 20 games, and his 2.03 goals-against average is second to St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington (1.85). He's tied for third in the NHL with six shutouts, including three straight during a Stars/Minnesota North Stars record shutout streak of 233:03 from March 2-19.

"You're not really expecting it or trying to do it, but when it starts happening it's kind of a cool thing," Bishop said. "I've never been much of a shutout goalie. I've rarely got two in a row, so to get three and kind of push it on is kind of funny to me."

Backup goalie Anton Khudobin has given Dallas a great second option in net. He has a 2.47 GAA, .926 save percentage and two shutouts in 40 games.


3. Heiskanen's impact

Though defenseman Miro Heiskanen hasn't garnered the attention of other rookies this season, such as Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson, Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, Heiskanen has been just as valuable to the Stars.

The No. 3 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Heiskanen leads NHL rookie defensemen with 12 goals, and he's second to Dahlin with 33 points. Heiskanen also played in the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game.

He has averaged 23:09 of ice time in 80 games, third on the Stars and tops among NHL rookies.

"He's handled it really well for the minutes he's played," assistant coach Rick Bowness told the Stars website. "Sometimes you bring in a young defenseman and you protect him and his minutes played and who he's out on the ice against. And we have not done that with Miro."


4. Totally Rad

Forward Alexander Radulov has been an offensive force in his two seasons with the Stars. His 70 points (29 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games is second to center Tyler Seguin (77 points; 31 goals, 46 assists), and two points shy of the 72 he had last season with two games remaining. Radulov has also shown a knack for scoring big goals, with seven game-winners to tie Seguin for the Dallas lead, and picked his game up when it has mattered most. After he was scratched March 5 against the New York Rangers for being late to a team meeting, Radulov responded with his first NHL hat trick in a 4-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche two days later and has 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 14 games since being scratched.

"It's always nice to bounce back and have a game like that," Radulov said. "You just have to do the little things to help your team to win when you get a chance to."

Video: PHI@DAL: Radulov scores 10 seconds after Comeau


5. Penalty-killing prowess

The Stars rank sixth in the League on the penalty kill at 82.4 percent, a huge reason for their success this season. They have allowed no power-play goals in 45 of 80 games and have allowed multiple power-play goals in a game five times. Dallas has been able to stay out of penalty trouble, averaging 7:40 per game in penalty minutes, ninth-fewest in the NHL.

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