The Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars both finished their regular-season finales thinking they were going to open the playoffs against someone else. They instead will meet each other in the first round for the second time in three seasons.
"It's crazy, we were 0.01 seconds away from playing the other opponent," said Matthew Tkachuk, one of two 100-point scorers for Calgary this season.
Dallas had expected an opening series against top-seeded Colorado. The Stars and Calgary had already played on the final night of the regular season before Nashville blew a four-goal lead and lost 5-4 in regulation at last-place Arizona. That put the Stars one point ahead of the Predators for the top wild-card slot, and reset the first-round pairings in the Western Conference.
The Predators get Colorado in the first round, instead of opening a series against Calgary.
"Left the rink, all I'm thinking about is Colorado, OK, we're going to go in on Monday," Stars coach Rick Bowness said. "Then get out of car, and now we're going to Calgary Sunday. It's shocking actually, but that's hockey."
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Calgary. The Stars won their first-round series in six games two years ago in the NHL bubble in Canada without any fans. Calgary took two of three this season, with a Pacific Division-clinching 4—2 home victory over the Stars on April 21.
Dallas has a trio of 70-point scorers on its top line, led by 37-year-old Joe Pavelski's career-high 81 points. But all three skaters on the Flames' top line are 40-goal scorers with more total points, and are the NHL's top three in plus-minus ratings: Johnny Gaudreau with a career-best season (115 points, plus-64), Tkachuk (104 points, plus-57) and Elias Lindholm (82 points, plus-61).
"Same as our top line," Bowness said. "Just highly skilled players that have great chemistry."
Pavelski (plus-11) is paired with 20-something forwards Jason Robertson (79 points, plus-16), only the fourth Dallas skater with a 40-goal season, and Roope Hintz (72 points, plus-15).
"An amazing player," Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said of Pavelski. "He's one of the guys that I really, really respect in the league."
Sutter has 699 wins in his 1,397 games, and is 65-36-11 since his return to the Flames midway through last season.
"It's just been steady," Tkachuk said of Calgary's second stint under Sutter.
The 63-year-old Sutter was the Stanley Cup championship coach in 2012 and 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings, one of the three other NHL teams for which he has been head coach.
Bowness, the 67-year-old at the end of his current contract, has 693 regular-season games as a head coach (with six teams) over parts of five different decades. Hall of Fame members Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman are the only other coaches to do that. Bowness has been on an NHL bench for more than 2,500 games as a head or assistant coach.
Jacob Markstrom, whose only previous playoff experience was with Vancouver in 2020, has gone from 19 losses in 43 games in his debut with Calgary last year to 37 wins and a league-high nine shutouts in 63 starts this season. He has a .922 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average.
Jake Oettinger appeared in two games during the bubble playoffs two years ago before he played a regular-season game for the Stars. The 23-year-old Oettinger, after splitting time last season with now-injured Anton Khudobin, is now their top goalie and is 30-15-1 with a .914 save percentage and 2.53 GAA this season.
BACK IN THE PLAYOFFS
After their playoff series two seasons ago, Calgary and Dallas both missed the playoffs last year after an abbreviated 56-game regular season. This is the third playoff appearance in four seasons for both teams, with 2020-21 being the exception for both.
Two weeks ago, Dallas had three regulation losses in four nights during a trip to Canada that ended with a 4-2 loss at Calgary. That point-less trip got even more miserable because of travel issues, including a plane switch and second trip through customs. They did not arrive home until well after midnight after leaving the hotel at 8:30 a.m.
The Stars were 3-5-1 in Canada this season. All three of those wins were in overtime, part of their NHL-high 28 one-goal wins.
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