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Stars’ prolific offense, stable of scorers is team’s No. 1 weapon entering NHL playoffs

Tuesday night marked the first game in a two-week, six-game homestand for the Dallas Stars. But we have reached the point where not much matters until the last two. Those will be the first two playoff games in what the Stars hope is a long run to the Stanley Cup.

Why should this year be different from last year? The Stars were awfully good in the 2022-23 season, Jake Oettinger was measurably better in the regular season than he has been this year, and Dallas had home-ice advantage for the first two rounds a year ago.

The answer is a simple one. These Stars put the puck in the net better than they did last season and maybe better than they ever have. Dallas was a good scoring team a year ago with a respected and sometimes feared first line of Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. The Stars are a superior scoring team in 2023-24 and just may lead the NHL in goals scored to drive home the point.

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With four games to play before their 3-2 win over Buffalo Tuesday, the Stars were one goal behind Colorado for the league lead. A year ago the high-flying Edmonton Oilers outscored Dallas by 40 in the regular season where the Stars finished seventh overall. They won’t finish lower than third this year and have a great chance of finishing first. And despite what you hear and perhaps read, scoring is generally what the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about.

Countless trees have been killed and voices rendered hoarse in arguing how goaltending wins playoff games and the only thing that matters is having the better man in net. And, mostly, these arguments are wrong.

If you go back a generation to the great Detroit Red Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups, yes, they won one with the brilliant Dominik Hasek, the Czech netminder who nearly stole a Cup from Dallas for Buffalo in 1999. But they won two with Chris Osgood and another with Mike Vernon. Scotty Bowman’s Red Wings won for the same reason most teams do: because they put the better lineup on the ice night after night.

If you prefer more recent history, Vegas had a surprisingly hot Adin Hill in net a year ago when beating Dallas and winning the Cup, but the Golden Knights scored 88 goals in 22 games. A year earlier Colorado won the Cup with Darcy Kuemper in net. He was in the league eight years before becoming a regular in Arizona. Kuemper’s backup Pavel Francouz went 6-0 in that playoff run with a 2.81 goals against average. The full-throttle Avalanche scored 85 goals in 20 games. When you score four or more a game in the postseason in this era as the Knights and Avs did, you’re likely to lug a trophy around the ice when it’s over.

Now the year before you can point to Tampa Bay and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 1.90 goals against average in the postseason. It never hurts when a great team has a great goalie as well. That goes a long way toward winning back-to-back Cups.

In the Western Conference playoffs this year, I don‘t think a great goalie exists. The best is most likely Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, but his Jets are the weakest scoring team in the conference. He’ll need a Jean-Sebastien Giguere performance — one that dispatched a strong Stars’ team in 2003 — to be the difference-maker in these playoffs.

Weirdly, the Stars are a team with one scorer in the league’s top 50. That’s probably a positive, too, since this team is much less reliant on the Pavelski-Hintz-Robertson line. Dallas is the league’s only team with eight 20-goal scorers. They were much on display against the Sabres as Robertson scored his 28th, young Wyatt Johnston got his team-leading 32nd and Pavelski added his 27th against a Sabres team that is missing the playoffs as usual.

“They say it’s a race to three goals, and we can get to three goals pretty quickly,’’ coach Pete DeBoer said. “We score a lot easier than teams they’ve had here in the past, so that’s a great luxury to have.’

Ahead of final homestand, Stars are aligning in Dallas at the right time

Scoring depth goes a long way toward success in the playoffs. Veteran Jamie Benn plays on a line these days with Johnston (20 years old) and Logan Stankoven (21), and it has energized the captain. He had 10 goals in 10 games prior to Buffalo. If the Stars can get goals at key moments from Benn and Tyler Seguin (25 goals), they can do considerable damage.

With all that said, the Stars will need Jake Oettinger to be good when it counts, not giving up a soft five-hole goal from the wing like he did Tuesday. But they won’t count on him being stand-on-his-head great as he was against Calgary in his playoff debut two years ago when this team wasn’t quite primed for Stanley Cup success.

This is a different team, different coach, different strengths, different kids. It has the goal-scoring prowess it needs throughout the lineup. And there’s really no better weapon to carry if you want to keep playing in May and on into June.

X: @TimCowlishaw

Find more Stars coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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