Do the Calgary Flames get another post-season opponent with injured key cogs? Or are the Dallas Stars back to full manpower?
Tuesday's opener in their first-round, best-of-seven series in Edmonton will provide clues, if not outright answers.
The series winner meets the victor of the series between the St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks in the second round.
Neither top centre Tyler Seguin nor regular starting goaltender Ben Bishop played for Dallas in Sunday's 2-1 shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues.
Bishop hasn't played in a week. The three-time Vezina Trophy nominee stopped 28-of-32 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights to start the Western Conference's four-team seeding round before sitting out two games.
Seguin didn't record a point against the Knights or in a subsequent 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
Stars coach Rick Bowness indicated both men are fit to play Tuesday against Calgary, yet stopped short of confirming they will.
"Everyone is healthy. Everyone got through practice, so we'll see what tomorrow brings," Bowness said on a video conference call with media Monday.
He's chosen Tuesday's starter but declined, when asked if it will be Bishop, to answer.
The Flames reached the first round by ousting the Winnipeg Jets in four games of a best-of-five qualifying series.
Calgary feasted on a Jets team minus top centre Mark Scheifele and winger Patrik Laine injured in Game 1, and outscored Winnipeg 16-6.
"Any time you can defeat a team and move on, you gain that confidence as a group," Flames captain Mark Giordano said Monday. "We've been saying it to you guys all year about how we feel like we're better suited for playoffs.
"I think we've just scratched the surface on that now by winning that play-in round."
Flames coach Geoff Ward didn't reveal Cam Talbot as his starter until Game 1 of the Winnipeg series with the rationale he wanted to keep the Jets guessing.
He's on the receiving end of similar gamesmanship given Anton Khudobin's two straight starts for Dallas.
"Whoever the goalie happens to be, we're going to try to try to throw the same game at them," Ward said. "We're not specifically game-planning for one goaltender over the other.
"We want to try to make it hard on them. We want to make them make second and third saves, much like you would in any other playoff series with any other goaltender."
The Stars play a heavier game than the Jets. Dallas's 174 goals-against before the NHL halted the regular season March 12 was second-fewest behind Boston (167).
The Stars were outscored 10-5 in the seeding round, however, to go 1-2.
"We're fine with where we're at," Stars forward Jamie Benn insisted. "We're confident in the group we have and the game we play.
"Defence is going to win games in the playoffs and that's what we're going to keep focusing on."
Both benches are overseen by interim head coaches after sudden mid-season coaching changes.
Bowness took over in Dallas for a fired Jim Montgomery in December. Ward was promoted from associate coach when Bill Peters resigned from the Flames in November.
The higher-seeded Stars are the home team Tuesday and Thursday. Calgary is the home team Friday and Sunday.
KEY MATCHUP — Old pest versus new pest. Stars forward Corey Perry perfected the art of irritation, getting away with it and twisting the knife by scoring timely goals. Hold my beer, says Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk, who is 13 years Perry's junior.
THE BIG QUESTION — Are Seguin and Bishop injured and if so, will the severity of those injuries take them out of the series or compromise their play?
PLAYOFF HISTORY — Calgary’s lone Stanley Cup victory was in 1989. The Flames reached the 2004 Cup final, but have made it past the first round just once after that. The Stars hoisted the Cup for the first time in 1999 six years after the franchise relocated from Minnesota. The Stars reached the second round in 2019 before bowing out in seven games to eventual champion St. Louis.
COACHES’ PLAYOFF HISTORY — No one has been around longer than Rick Bowness with 35 years in the NHL's coaching ranks, but he lacks playoff success as a head coach. Reaching the third round with the Boston Bruins back in 1992 was his lone appearance in 10 seasons at the helm. Bowness was an associate coach for Vancouver and Tampa Bay in the Cup finals of 2011 and 2015 respectively. Ward is an NHL head coach for the first time. He won a Stanley Cup as a Bruins assistant in 2011.
REGULAR-SEASON RECORDS — Dallas ranked fourth in the Western Conference (37-24-8). Calgary was three points below in eighth (36-27-7).
SEASON SERIES — Calgary took it 2-1 winning 3-2 in a shootout and 5-1 on Oct. 10 and Dec. 22 respectively. David Rittich was in net for both wins, while Talbot was the starter in a 3-1 loss Nov. 13.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2020.
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