Five days ago the Dallas Stars put away the Minnesota Wild and claimed their first post-season victory since 2008 when they went to the Conference Championships.
Whether or not they did so looking more like victors than someone slowly backing away as if to absolve themselves of any association of what had just taken place there remains to be seen. A blown 4-0 third-period lead in a series clincher was as unheard of as the possibility of surviving such a thing- But the Stars did.
Now they must face the (at-the-moment) perceived top-team in the West in the St. Louis Blues after Ken Hitchcock's group dispatched the Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night in a thrilling game-seven.
Hitchcock won a cup here and was very diplomatic in his comments Thursday, even as his team is considered to be a reasonable favorite-
"To me, they're a deep team that can score throughout their lineup and you're going to have to pay attention," Hitchcock told media this week. "If you fall asleep, any line falls asleep, we're going to be in a vulnerable position. Their record in the Central was terrific, their record against playoff teams was even better. We're going to have to be sharp. We're going to have to be sharp in every aspect."
St. Louis won more often than not against Dallas this season- Let's take a look at some key numbers heading into this one.-
|Season Average:||Against St. Louis:|
|Corsi For % (5v5)||52.60%||50.90%|
|Average Corsi +/- (5v5)||+4.78||+1.8|
|Corsi Events 5v5||61||43.2|
|Total events for/against (5v5):||117||108|
|Faceoff % (5v5)||52.50%||49%|
This helps convince us of what we think we know already- That the Blues want to slow the game down. That they want to limit the Stars chances and counter-punch when the opportunity arises. That they're willing to play a more patient game.
Mostly, it confirms what we saw in round 1 when the Blues played the Blackhawks- That they're built for this. They're built for stopping the Stars' and Hawks' brand of game with the same tried and true playoff formula that won Ken Hitchcock a Stanley Cup right here in our fair burg. It's a combination of physicality, quality defense in personnel and structure both, and goaltending that's above average.
They have all of those things, they just knocked off the defending champs, and they're storming into the AAC to show who the more experienced playoff team is around these parts, even as Nashville has claimed victory- Extending the Central/Pacific dichotomy into the second round where 75% of the teams hail from one place rather than the other.
The series is expected to mimic some fairly base behavior where a team like the Stars vs a team like the Blues is concerned- Score first and profit.
In basketball, in American football, in hockey, the team team that commands the lead can command the pace of the action. If the Stars take a 2-0 lead, as you saw with the Wild, they can force their opponent into a position of discomfort and open the game up a bit. If the Blues jump out to a 2-0 lead (also seen against the Wild) then the Stars are the ones who are forced to up their attack against a patient side just looking for mistakes.
With St. Louis being the more conservative of the two, conventional wisdom predicts them to be the more dictative party in style of play. Lindy Ruff teams have struggled at times against similar game plans- They'll have to make adjustments to ensure quality chances in the case of a deficit.
Tyler Seguin won't play, and that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone at this point. He is still not skating. Even when he does he'll need time to ramp-up and practice. It would be surprising if he played in this round. They'll move on with what they have, which is still quite a bit.
That salty Blues lineup:
Seven games with the Blackhaws be damned, the Blues believe they enter fresh and at 100%-
"We had a day off after the series and a good practice to get our legs under us again," Robby Fabbri told media yesterday. "Everyone's rested and we're going in fresh."
That's 100% health for the Blues vs the loss of Tyler Seguin, which is unfortunate, and perhaps a little 1998-esque, I've heard a handful of people comment.
Either way, a playoff series waits for no man's lower body injury. This one gets pumping tonight at about 7:12 or so NBCSN nationally.
Some notes of note from Blues PR:
-This series marks the first time the Blues have started a playoff series on the road since 2009 vs. Vancouver
-In team history, the Blues have played Games 1 and 2 of a series on the road 30 times; they have split those games 14 times and swept them on two occasions
-The last time the Blues swept Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series on the road was the 2001 Conf. Semifinals against Dallas
-This is the Blues' 18th trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoff and the first since 2012
From Stars PR:
FEELIN' THE BLUES
Dallas and St. Louis meet in the Second Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs after finishing with the two best records in the Western Conference during the 2015-16 regular season. The Stars and Blues meet for the 13th time in a playoff series, which is the most postseason series played against any opponent in franchise history. Dallas and St. Louis last met in the 2001 Western Conference Semifinals, with the Blues recording a 4-0 sweep over the Stars. During the 2015-16 campaign, Dallas collected points in four of five meetings against St. Louis (1-1-3), with three of the five contests needing overtime or a shootout to decide the result. In each game against St. Louis this season, the Stars played the Blues on either the first or second night of a back-to-back situation. During the 2015-16 campaign against the Blues, captain Jamie Benn (2-3=5, 5 games) and defenseman Alex Goligoski (0-5=5, 5 games) led the Stars in individual scoring. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen played in two games with a 1-0-1 record (.955 SV%, 0.99 GAA) and goaltender Antti Niemi played in three games with an 0-1-2 record (.899 SV%, 3.22 GAA).
BENN THERE, DONE THAT
Stars captain Jamie Benn tied a postseason career-high with three points (1-2=3) in Game 6 against the Minnesota Wild. Benn is riding a six-game postseason point streak (4-6=10), which is tied for the longest active streak in the playoffs with St. Louis' Jaden Schwartz (3-4=7). Benn ranks second in the NHL with 10 points during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and is tied for first with six assists. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the captain's 10 points in the First Round against the Wild matches the highest point total in one playoff series by a Dallas Stars player since the club moved to Dallas in 1993 (others: Mike Modano and Seregi Zubov, 2003 Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Edmonton). The captain's six-game postseason point streak is the longest by a Dallas Stars player since 2008, when Brenden Morrow also registered points in six consecutive playoff games (4-2=6) from May 2 - May 14, 2008. The native of Victoria, B.C. now has points in 11 of 12 career playoff contests, tallying 15 career points (8-7=15) in the postseason and is the first player in franchise history to register at least one point in 11 of his first 12 career playoff games.