Stars know it won’t be easy to eliminate Avalanche in Game 6 

DALLAS — The Dallas Stars could have eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in five games in the Western Conference Second Round. They had a 2-1 lead in Game 5 on Wednesday and lost 5-3.

You could argue the Stars should have swept the Avalanche. They had a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and lost 4-3 in overtime before winning the next three games by a combined score of 14-5.

But here they were at the airport Thursday, flying to Denver for Game 6 on Friday (10 p.m. ET; MAX, truTV, TNT, SN1, SN, TVAS), and that seemed about right in the big picture.

Although they won the Western Conference with 113 points in the regular season, the Stars finished three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and six ahead of the Avalanche in the Central Division. Colorado won the Stanley Cup in 2022 and has three of the best players in the NHL: defenseman Cale Makar and forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

“The series is going to go back and forth,” Dallas forward Matt Duchene said. “They’re a heck of a hockey team. I mean, they easily could have won our division this year too. Between us, Winnipeg and them, everyone was tight and had the lead at one point, so we’re not surprised we’re in this position, because they’re that good a team. And who knows? Hopefully, we close them out [in Game 6]. It might take two games.”

The Stars need to get back to what they did in Games 2-4, when they held Rantanen to a goal, MacKinnon to an assist, Makar to no points and the Avalanche to 0-for-8 on the power play. Makar had two goals, MacKinnon had a goal and an assist, Rantanen had an assist, and the Avalanche went 2-for-3 on the power play in Game 5.

“I think it’s a big ask to shut those guys down,” Dallas coach Pete DeBoer said. “You knew they were going to respond after the previous three games and the three losses, and I think I said yesterday, it’s tough to beat any team in this league four games in a row, so we knew that was going to come at some point, and all three of them were really good. I think the message in there is, if we can contain them — or make sure one of them’s really good, not all three on the same night — we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Dallas was the best road team in the NHL in the regular season (.695) and is now 4-1 on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, allowing 1.60 goals per game, the lowest rate among the 16 playoff teams. The Stars are 3-4 at home in the playoffs, allowing 3.14 goals per game, which is ranked seventh.

Why the difference? DeBoer disagreed with the theory the Stars roll four lines more, worry about matchups less and take fewer risks on the road.

“I think there’s been games we’ve played just as well at home as we have on the road,” he said. “We’ve just found ways to lose instead of win. I don’t have an answer for that.”

The Stars again could be without center Roope Hintz, who didn’t play in Game 5 after blocking a shot in Game 4. DeBoer said he was day to day. Asked if Hintz was making the trip, DeBoer smiled and repeated that he was day to day.

“The beautiful thing here is that we have incredible depth,” Duchene said. “You can have a big player like Roope go down and still have some great options. It’s not like you’re reeling to replace him. Obviously, he’s a guy that’s very hard to replace, but we do have a lot of really good players that can step in and try to fill that void.”

The Stars would love to finish off the Avalanche in Game 6, not just to avoid Game 7, but to rest, heal and prepare for the Western Conference Final. But they know how difficult this will be. In the first round against the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights, they failed to close out the series in Game 6 in Las Vegas and won Game 7 in Dallas.

“It’s a hard thing to do,” DeBoer said.

“You’re down to the eight best teams in the League right now, so it’s hard to close anyone out, and if it takes six or it takes overtime in seven, the bottom line is, you just want to move forward. …

“We’ve got to find a way to get it done. I’m confident in our game. I think our group trusts our game, both at home and on the road, so I think we’re confident going into a Game 6 on the road, and if it doesn’t happen, we’re confident in a Game 7. We’ve done it before here.”

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