The Dallas Stars find themselves in a new position heading into Game 4 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs: trailing in a series. It presents a new learning experience, a new adversity to overcome. If the Stars want to prove to themselves, their fans, and the national media that they're deserving of consideration as a true contender, Game 4 is a must-win for the squad.
Dallas will have to showcase structured, desperate hockey. Backs against the wall, the Stars mental fortitude will need to be stronger to eliminate the turnovers and missed defensive assignments that plagued them in Game 3. Win tomorrow, and the series comes back to your home barn tied up 2-2, with two remaining games in Dallas. Lose, and face elimination in front of your home crowd Saturday afternoon.
The Stars will be facing a St. Louis Blues team that is just as desperate to win tonight -- but for a different reason. The Blues need to take a 3-1 commanding lead in this round of the playoffs to shake the "choker" label they've acquired after being bounced from the playoffs in recent history.
Special teams will be another key to the game, as Dallas has struggled to capitalize on the power play. They're 0-for-11 so far in the series versus the Blues. That might be a little easier to write off if they weren't also on an abysmal 71% penalty kill rate as well. They'll need to pull both sides of the special teams battle around quickly if Dallas doesn't want to join the rest of the league out on the golf course for the offseason.
One of the biggest offensive weapons for the Stars is still skating in Dallas, and isn't expected to be available tonight. Tyler Seguin has been skating since Sunday, and if general manager Jim Nill's assertion that it would be 4-5 days once he started skating again before his return to the lineup is possible, there's an outside chance that the Stars could get him back for Game 5 on Saturday.
Patrick Eaves joins Seguin in Dallas on the injured list. Luckily, Lindy Ruff has several options to insert into the lineup if he wants to change anything up. Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie, and Val Nichushkin are all options to fill in the forward holes.
The Blues, on the other hand, have no injuries of note. For one of the first times this season, the Blues find themselves the benefactor of health. With a lineup that was so effective at shutting down the Stars in Game 3, not much is anticipated to change.
These opponents know each other. Success comes down to execution and who wants it more: those looking not to dig a deeper hole in the series, or those looking to fight another day.
Desperate, structured hockey. That's what the Stars need tonight.