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A goalie debate? Lineup decisions? It's good to have playoff hockey back

The postseason creates wonderful theater - and the Stars are certainly not shying away from it entering Round 1 in Nashville

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The Stanley Cup playoffs create great theater.

All you had to do was watch Stars coach Jim Montgomery confidently saunter out Monday and tell the assembled media that the coaches would reveal their choice for Game 1 starter on Wednesday morning.

Dude, you have one of the best goalies in the league coming off a shutout in Ben Bishop and you're not going to start him?!!!

Oh wait, I get it. There's no hurry, why not be coy? That's the beauty of the dance between coaches, the media, the fans, and the opposition. It's the playoffs, it is different, and that's a wonderful thing.

They call baseball a talking game because of all the moves a manager can make or all of the umpire calls that can go one way or another. But playoff hockey comes close when you think about sitting on a barstool and second-guessing everything.

Video: Zuccarello 'ready to go' for Game 1 in Nashville

Montgomery made his decision to hold off on naming his starting goaltender in part because he can, and in part because there is a debate if you want to have it. Yes, Bishop set a franchise record for save percentage at .934 and is coming off a shutout in his last game of the season. But Anton Khudobin won two huge games at Nashville where he stopped 87 of 88 shots, and there is the thought that maybe he's in the head of the Predators' players.

I mean, that's a discussion you can have, right?

Now, the more conservative fan will tell you that Bishop is 27-15-2 with a 1.98 goals against average (second in the NHL). He'll tell you Bishop handles the puck better, and that's maybe why the Stars typically play better in front of him. They'll tell you he has 36 games of playoff experience and Khudobin has part of one - and they'll be right.

It's probably best to start Bishop in Game 1 Wednesday. It's probably what Montgomery will tell everyone after the morning skate.

But the coach said he expects that both goaltenders will play at some point in the playoffs, and he's also probably right about that.

Video: 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Don't Leave Empty-Handed

Khudobin ranked eighth in the NHL among qualifying goalies this year with a .923 save percentage. He ranked 15th in goals against average at 2.57. He played in 41 games, and he was a huge reason the Stars are returning to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.

So, it's good to talk about him, as well. It's good to talk about the fact he won twice in Nashville, It's good to note that he went 3-0-1 during a crucial stretch to help get the Stars into the postseason, allowing seven goals in four games.

It's good to have that discussion when you're remembering that Bishop has pulled himself from two games in the past month because of non-contact injuries that occurred when he went down into the splits. It's good to believe in both of your net-minders, because they're kind of a big deal in the playoffs.

So go ahead and have the debate on who should start Game 1. Jim Montgomery wants you to.

While you're at it, you can discuss whether you would start Justin Dowling over Jason Spezza, as Montgomery and his coaching seems prepared to do. Spezza has played more than 1,000 regular season NHL games, Dowling has played 20. Spezza has played 69 career Stanley Cup playoff games (accumulating 65 points). Dowling has played none.

Video: Stars excited for Game 1 against Predators

It's something you can mull over with your friends. It seems the coaches are.

"He's a guy who makes plays, he's a person who wins battles," Montgomery said when asked what he likes about Dowling, an AHL veteran who has played in five of the last eight games and was practicing on the power play Tuesday. "He supports the puck extremely well in the D-zone, and he supports the puck extremely well everywhere. He's a very smart hockey player that we think makes a lot of plays."

Once you chew on that one for a while, then you can move on and see that the practice lines indicate Mats Zuccarello will likely start on a line with Jamie Benn and Roope Hintz. But didn't Zuccarello play great with Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov in his first game with the Stars? Isn't that an option?

It's all up for debate.

Maybe Spezza will come in and have a big impact in Game 2. Maybe Khudobin will draw a start and save the day. Maybe Valeri Nichushkin will come in and score his first goal of the season.

Video: Previewing the Stars vs. Predators First Round series

The beauty of the discussions in the playoffs is they change every day, sometimes from period to period. Montgomery will push buttons, as he has all season, and everyone will have an opinion on the ensuing results.

People care so much, because it matters. It matters because people care so much.

That's what creates this scintillating theater, and not just in Dallas. You get to opine on any number of series, on any number of decisions, and you get to be right or wrong or both, depending on the outcome.

Jim Montgomery, who has been among the most transparent coaches in the NHL this season with his decision making, walked out Monday and played coy.

Man, it's good to be back in the playoffs.


Game 1: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators

Where: Bridgestone Arena
When: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest, USA Network
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

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

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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