It was less than two years ago when the Dallas Stars entered the bubble and marched all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they eventually lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, during that playoff run, it was obvious Dallas' defense-first style was made for the playoffs.
In 2020, the Stars' playoff run began with a first-round victory over the Calgary Flames. However, despite the recent playoff success of Dallas and the result of that recent series, it's the Flames who enter the 2022 playoffs as significant favorites to win the series and advance. Calgary is -300 to take care of Dallas and move on to Round 2.
How these teams got here
The Calgary Flames finished the season with 50 wins and 111 points, earning them the Pacific Division crown. The Flames finished with the sixth-best record in the league, and the third-best record in the Western Conference behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. The Dallas Stars finished the year with 98 points, making them one of just three playoff teams in the league to qualify without reaching the 100-point mark. Dallas held off the Vegas Golden Knights over the final week of the season in order to clinch a wild-card berth.
The standings tell you the Flames are the better team in this series, and if you look under the hood, the metrics would agree. The puck-possession and shot-generating metrics paint the picture of an elite team going up against an average team.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames finished third in the league in terms of expected goal (XG) rate, finishing with a 56% mark. Only the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers finished ahead of Calgary. On the flip side, Dallas finished with the 13th-best XG rate in the league, clocking in at just under 51%.
If you break it down even further, nothing changes. Calgary was elite on both sides of the puck, while the Stars were average. Calgary ranked fourth in XG scored per hour at five-on-five, while the Stars ranked 14th. On the defensive side, Calgary ranked third while Dallas ranked 11th.
Calgary is a complete team and dominates on both sides of the ice, which is why it's a significant betting favorite to win this series. However, Dallas is formidable on both sides of the puck and projects as a tough out, even against a team that profiles to be superior.
Breaking down the rosters
When looking at these two teams, you must start at the top. Both Dallas and Calgary feature two of the best top lines in the league.
At the age of 37, Dallas' Joe Pavelski just had the most productive season of his great career with 81 points in 82 games. Roope Hintz plays center on the line, a smooth two-way player who contributed 72 points on the year. On the other side is Jason Robertson, a 22-year-old who played at better than a point-per-game pace in his second full season. Robertson is quickly becoming a star in the league, and his linemates have been a big part of that. The trio controls play when it's on the ice and is the focal point of Dallas' offensive attack. However, it might not be the best first line in this series.
The Calgary Flames trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm all reached the 40-goal mark this regular season. Gaudreau's 115 points tied for second in the league and ranked him only behind Connor McDavid. Gaudreau's name has been thrown around in Hart Trophy talks, though he's unlikely to win it ahead of McDavid or Auston Matthews. Tkachuk also eclipsed the 100-point mark and has developed into one of the best power forwards in the sport. Centering the two is Elias Lindholm, who scored 42 goals and 82 points while playing a sound two-way game.
Both top lines are elite, but Calgary's trio projects to be a bit better than Dallas'. We won't know for sure until they hit the ice, but this will be a fun matchup to watch.
The issue for Dallas comes behind the top lines. The Flames have Andrew Mangiapane, a 35-goal scorer and defensive pest anchoring the second line alongside Tyler Toffoli, a six-time 20-goal scorer with two Stanley Cup rings. Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and Calle Jarnkrok are good two-way players littered throughout Calgary's middle-six.
For Dallas, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are half the players they used to be. Denis Gurianov has not developed as well as many had hoped, and Alexander Radulov's goal-scoring ability has disappeared completely. Even if Dallas' top line can keep up with Calgary's, it's hard to see Dallas' bottom-nine forwards hanging with that of the Flames.
On the defensive side, Dallas probably has the best defenseman in the series in Miro Heiskanen. However, the gap between Heiskanen and Rasmus Andersson or Noah Hanifin isn't as big as some might think. Both teams have good defensive depth and it's safe to call these units a wash.
Another edge for Calgary comes between the pipes. Jacob Markstrom finished the season ranked third in goals-against average, fourth in save percentage and first in shutouts. He posted a +16.1 goals saved above expectation (GSAx) mark, according to Evolving-Hockey, which ranked fifth best in the league. Markstrom is one of the better goalies in the league when he's on, and he's been on this year.
For Dallas, Ben Bishop, Braden Holtby and Anton Khudobin have all either retired, been waived or gotten hurt over the past few months. The crease now belongs to 23-year old Jake Oettinger, who's been solid in his second NHL season. He's posted a +0.5 GSAx mark on the year, which means he's playing about as well as he should be expected to play. Nevertheless, while goaltending might not be an issue for the Stars, goaltending is a strength for the Flames.
How to bet the series
As mentioned earlier, Dallas projects as a tough out. It's a solid defensive team that has playoff experience. We saw in the 2020 bubble just how tough the Stars can be to play against. They have the ability to frustrate teams and grind out low-scoring wins. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Calgary Flames are coached by Darryl Sutter, a coach who used exactly that style of hockey to win two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014.
Calgary is a significant -300 favorite in this series, a price I'm not willing to lay in this sport filled with inexplainable bounces and mind-boggling results. If you want to bet the Flames, it's probably best to find a creative way to bet them.
Calgary is -130 to win Game 1 of the series and then go on and eliminate the Stars. The Flames are a -225 favorite in Game 1, so this is a way of cutting the juice on both a Game 1 and series bet.
The Flames are -150 favorites to cover the series spread of 1.5 games, which means they win the series in six games or fewer. The Stars are +125 to at least force a Game 7. Calgary is +475 to sweep and +260 to win in five.
Dallas is built for the playoffs and it could turn this into a good series. If you want to back the Stars to pull off the upset, Dallas is +250 to win the series.