DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson is quick to point out that while he finished second behind Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov for the Calder Trophy, it wasn’t even a close vote to determine the NHL’s top rookie two years ago.
Kaprizov, who got 99 of the 100 first-place votes back then, and Robertson are now the leading scorers on their respective teams. They face each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs, with the Central Division rival Stars and Wild opening their best-of-7 series Monday night.
“He’s an amazing player,” Kaprizov said of Robertson, the 23-year-old who this season became Dallas’ first 100-point scorer (46 goals, 63 assists). “He gets opportunities from nothing.”
Robertson said much the same about Kaprizov, whose 40 goals and 35 assists came in 67 games. He was back for Minnesota’s final two regular-season games after missing a month with a lower-body injury, and said he was starting to feel like himself again after that and a couple of practices.
“You just see the development, how much he’s taken over as their main guy, as their top scorer, top player, and so dynamic on the ice,” Robertson said. “He’s someone that can elude you, can get away and just make something happen out of nothing, and just create so much.”
Neither Dallas, going into the postseason on a six-game winning streak, or Minnesota made it out of the first round of the playoffs last year. Robertson scored only one goal in seven games against Calgary. Kaprizov, who would turn 26 during this series if it goes past five games, had seven goals in a six-game loss to St. Louis. It was the Wild’s sixth consecutive loss in the opening round.
“We left last year’s playoffs disappointed in how we handled the situation, all of us,” third-year Wild coach Dean Evason said. “We talked to ourselves and to each other about we have to be better when we get back there. We’re back there, we have to be better.”
Three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-André Fleury is in the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season, the longest streak for an NHL goalie. He is part of a Wild tandem and expected to split games in the playoffs with 24-year-old Filip Gustavsson, like they did most of the season.
When Evason was asked if he knew who would start Game 1, he said he did, then laughed when telling reporters he wouldn’t say who.
The Stars have Minnesota native Jake Oettinger, whose NHL debut came during the 2020 playoffs. He had 64 saves in Game 7 against the Flames last May, part of his 272 over seven games before an overtime goal ended the first-round series. Oettinger is 37-11-11 this season with five shutouts.
“Just that poise and that confidence and swagger he’s had over the past couple of years that he’s developed is something that is an advantage for us, especially after last year’s playoffs,” Robertson said. “I’m sure he’ll have that same type of swagger.”
FROM NORTH TO SOUTH
Before moving south to Dallas in 1993, the Stars called Minnesota home and were the North Stars. The expansion Wild’s first season was 2000-01.
Wild general manager Bill Guerin played 18 NHL seasons, three for Dallas about two decades ago. Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, an advisor for Minnesota, spent 20 of his 21 seasons playing for the North Stars/Stars franchise.
Dallas won a first-round series in six games in 2016, the only other time these teams met in the postseason. In four meetings this season, Minnesota twice won shootouts and the Stars had a pair of 4-1 wins.
“A couple of overtime games, not a lot of room, physical. I think that’s going to be the story of the series.” first-year Stars coach Pete DeBoer said.
Three players on both teams were part of the 2016 series. Still with the Wild seven years later are their top three defensemen: Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba. The Stars return three forwards: captain Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Radek Faksa, then a rookie.
Benn is in his 14th season and has 78 points (33 goals), his most points since he had 79 (36 goals) in 2017-18.
Wyatt Johnston, the 19-year-old center for the Stars, tied for the NHL rookie lead with 24 goals. It is also the most for a Dallas rookie. … Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek missed the last four games with a lower body injury after getting hit by a puck. He skated Saturday and Sunday on his own.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
Stephen Hawkins, The Associated Press