Special teams play was expected to be key in the first-round playoff series between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, and it has.
It was huge in the Stars' 5-1 victory Wednesday in Game 4 that tied the series 2-2 with Dallas scoring three times on the power play in the first period.
A power-play goal also was key in the Stars' 3-2 win in Game 1. Both teams scored twice at even strength, and the Stars were 1-for-3 with the man-advantage while the Predators went 0-for-4. But the Dallas power play misfired in Games 2 and 3, failing on 10 chances as the Stars lost both games.
[PLAYOFF CENTRAL: Complete Stars vs. Predators series coverage]
Still, the Stars have a 4-0 advantage in power-play goals in the series.
The Dallas penalty kill, which ranked fifth during the regular season, has been a major factor, going 10-for-10 against the Nashville power play, which ranked last in the league during the regular season and has not been able to get on track during the playoffs.
Video: Stars coming into Game 5 with positive mindset
"When we are penalty killing, all four guys are together. They are together on the forecheck, they are together on faceoffs," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. (Assistant coach Rick) Bowness has done a fantastic job of what we want to give up when they are in zone and have possession. When they have five and you have four, you are going to have to give up something."
Montgomery credited coordination between Bowness, goaltender Ben Bishop, goaltending coach Jeff Reese, and the penalty killers getting everybody in sync and making sure that all those on the PK know who is responsible for what in all situations.
"We talk about it all the time," Bishop said. "That's one of the great things about having [Bowness] in there is he is a great communicator with us, asking us questions just as much telling us what we want to do. It's really a team effort and were all on the same page and we kind of know what's going to be available.
"Obviously, you want to take away their threats. It's tougher when you play a team like Nashville and they've got so many."
As always, goaltenders are a big part of the penalty kill. Bishop has stopped all 16 shots he's faced on the penalty kill and his 2.35 goals saved above average on the PK ranks second in the playoffs.
Video: Cogliano on Stars' 5-1 win in Game 4, scoring early
Defenseman Esa Lindell leads the Stars in shorthanded ice time, averaging 4:03 per game. To put Lindell's ice time in perspective: The Stars have been shorthanded 19:46 during the series and Lindell has been on the ice for 16:12 or 82 percent of the time.
"There's a guy that takes great pride in his penalty kill," said Montgomery. "I think when he goes out there on the power play it's like fun time for him, but the penalty kill is serious time for him. There's a lot of time that we want him to change and he looks over at the bench like 'Why?' He wants to be out there for the entire two minutes."
Blake Comeau has been tops in shorthanded ice time among Dallas forwards, averaging 2:37 per game.
"He's an elite penalty killer. Really prides himself on it," said Montgomery. "The way he likes to penalty kill has made us more aggressive and has allowed us to kill plays a lot sooner. Again, I credit Coach Bowness. He wants that feedback from the players, and he's going to use what the players want to do best as long as it makes sense with what the power play is doing. "
Another key for the Stars is staying out of the penalty box and limiting Nashville's opportunities. Dallas hasn't been on the penalty kill all that often, only 10 times or 2.5 shorthanded situations per game.
Video: NSH@DAL, Gm4: Stars strike early with four goals
Through Thursday, the Stars are tied for the second-fewest shorthanded situations per game in the playoffs. Columbus, which has been shorthanded 1.5 times per game, has been the most disciplined team.
"Discipline is really important," said Montgomery. "When you get four or five penalty kills, a power play usually scores. So, we've been really good about not getting in the box very much."
Discipline has been a problem for the Predators, who have put the Stars on 19 power plays in the series. The Stars' plus-9 advantage in power plays is the biggest in the playoffs as is their plus-12:48 advantage in power-play time. That's something that the Predators have taken note of as well.
"Discipline is definitely something that is on the plate," said Predators coach Peter Laviolette. "We've got to play a cleaner game."
But so far, they haven't, and special teams have tilted the Stars way through four games and will be an area to watch in Saturday's crucial Game 5.
Game 5: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators
Where: Bridgestone Arena
When: Today, 2 p.m.
TV/radio: NBC; 1310-AM, 96.7-FM
For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.
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.