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Get to know the Stars' possible first-round opponents

Nashville? Winnipeg? DallasStars.com's Mark Stepneski scouts the four potential matchups Dallas could face

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

If you've been looking for some clarity on a first-round playoff opponent for the Dallas Stars, we're not there yet. And Thursday night's games didn't help the matter.

Winnipeg lost in overtime to Colorado and both Nashville and St. Louis won their games. So, the Predators are now in first place in the Central Division, and the Jets and Blues are both one point back with all three teams having one game left in the season. And all three close out the regular season Saturday and then there will be clarity.

 

[COMPLETE COVERAGE: From ticket information to game day FAQs, Stars Playoff Central has you covered]

 

This will matter to the Stars because as the team that currently sits in the first wild-card spot in the West, they would play the winner of the Central Division. As the standings stand today, that would mean a first-round matchup with the Predators. But that could change Saturday.

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And there is a slim chance it could be Calgary, which has already clinched the Pacific Division and will face the second wild-card team.

The Avalanche's win over Winnipeg pulled them to within one point of the Stars for the first wild-card spot. The Stars have one game in hand and need only one point in their final two games to wrap up the first wild-card spot. A Colorado loss in any fashion against San Jose Saturday would do the trick as well.

Stay tuned.

 

If the playoffs started today

Central Division
1-Nashville vs. WC1-Dallas
2-Winnipeg vs. 3-St. Louis

Pacific Division
1-Calgary vs. WC2-Colorado
2-San Jose vs. 3-Vegas

 

Possible first-round opponents

Here's a brief look at possible first-round opponents for the Stars.

 

Nashville Predators » The Stars went 2-1-2 against Nashville this season, and the Predators went 3-2-0 against the Stars, but they haven't seen each other since the middle of February. The Stars won two of three in Nashville behind Anton Khudobin, who stopped 77 of 78 shots in the two games. This would be an intriguing matchup since there is a budding rivalry between the Stars and Predators and the two will meet in the 2020 Winter Classic in Dallas.

After a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17 and a Presidents' Trophy in 2017-18, the Predators are in the midst of the best stretch in their franchise history. They haven't had the spectacular regular season of 2017-18, but they are the same old Predators. They don't give up much, ranking among the best in goals against. They have a superb top four on defense in Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Pekka Rinne has had a solid season in goal. The Predators have a deep set of forwards but don't have the offensive firepower of some of the other top teams in the West. The power play has not been their friend. They rank last in the league at 12.7 percent.

Nashville is relatively healthy as the regular season comes to an end.

 

Winnipeg Jets » The Stars took three of four games against Winnipeg this season and had a couple of their more impressive wins against the Jets. You don't want to read too much into the regular season results because a playoff series is a different animal, but the Stars have played some good hockey against Winnipeg this season.

The Jets haven't been as dominant as they were last season and they have struggled down the stretch, but they have some offensive talent up front led by guys like Mark Scheiefele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Connor and they possess a dangerous power play. They've been a little looser defensively this season, and that's probably led to goaltender Connor Hellebuyck's numbers dropping off. The Winnipeg penalty kill has been spotty, and the Stars scored on the power play in three of four games against Winnipeg. The Jets can play any style, skating with pace and speed or mucking it up and grinding it out.

Defenseman Josh Morrissey (upper body) and Brandon Tanev (finger) are both out, and it's unclear if they'll be ready for the start of the postseason. Backup goaltender Laurent Brossoit (lower body) is out as well.

 

St. Louis Blues » The Stars won three of four games against the Blues this season, but again that all goes out the window in the playoffs. Still, Stars the prevailed in three of the four games despite being outshot and outchanced thanks in part to winning the goaltending battle and finding a way to crack hotshot rookie netminder Jordan Binnington in a couple of the wins. The Stars and Blues have been the top two teams in the Western Conference since the All-Star break and have been two of the stingiest defensively.

In early January the Blues were rotating in and out of last place in the Western Conference, and their playoff chances were not looking good. But they turned their season around and posted a 23-6-4 record since Jan. 23 to climb up the standings and compete for the Central Division title over the final few days of the season. A stingy defensive game and the goaltending of Binnington has helped fuel the Blues' impressive run. St. Louis has generated some offense as well with Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O'Reilly, and Brayden Schenn leading the way.

The Blues are relatively healthy with defenseman Joel Edmundson returning to the lineup Thursday.

 

Calgary Flames » The Stars were 3-0-0 against the Flames this season and held the high-scoring Flames to just four goals, three of them coming in one game. Otherwise, the Stars did a nice job of keeping the Flames to the outside and keeping their chances down.

Calgary's has had an impressive season under first-year coach Bill Peters, who has helped the Flames develop into a top offensive team with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk leading the way up front and Mark Giordano on the blue line. There are still questions in goal for Flames, specifically who starts Game 1 of the playoffs. Mike Smith has been on a nice run lately while David Rittich started the season hot, cooled off but has played well down the stretch.

The Flames are relatively healthy heading into the playoffs. Forward Sam Bennett missed a game recently but is expected to play before the regular season ends.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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