This is a bit stream-of-consciousness, as I was writing along with the game in order to be on time for a family event (AKA to see my two baby nieces and forgot about anything else mattering) today. Today is a good opportunity to remember that there are more important things than hockey, although I sorely wish Dallas hadn't adopted the same viewpoint.
I will say as a preface that goaltending was the story today, although not in the conventional sense. Kari Lehtonen hardly could have done more than he did (although I am open to being told otherwise), and that's not an apology as much as it is a description of the massive breakdowns that led to the Blues' goals. Briant Elliott, on the other hand, made a couple of huge stops in tight, and the Stars never really created the dead-to-rights chances that the Blues found themselves with. And the few times Dallas had such chances, they couldn't put them home (or even on net).
You can blame the officiating for part of this game, if you pretend that the power play would have eventually scored; you can blame poor luck as well, given the Blues' first goal; but ultimately, Dallas had a home game in which to take the series lead, and they didn't convert on hardly any of their best chances. As good as Elliott was, the Stars' skaters were the culprits. When you double up the St. Louis Blues in scoring chances, you should not lose by even two goals, let alone three.
Also, the Blues are a good team who can pressure teams into mistakes in the defensive zone. I don't like typing complimentary things about the Blues, but what can you say? Team's not bad, and the Stars were--at least, they were when it mattered most.
The Stars' fourth line continued its improbable scoring chance generation, although Ritchie was in too tight on his chance to really do anything more than just stuff it into Elliott. Fate is Ever Cruel, however, and Ritchie would succeed at putting the puck past a goaltender later on. Still, the Stars had been the better team up to that point, so there was hope that they could repeat their Game 4 success after surrendering the first goal.
After losing a boards battle in their own zone, I was feeling pretty annoyed. Then the Stars managed a nice breakout pass after a good while of being hemmed in, and Nichushkin's blocked shot turned into another board battle that the Stars, this time, would win. Fiddler's pass was one of those Veteran With His Head Up plays, and Goligoski's grin post-goal said as much.
Cody Eakin, to me, didn't look totally ready for the pass from Sharp on the 2-on-1. I don't begrudge Sharp the pass there, considering Eakin has a tap-in if the puck is a little better-positioned, but it was one of those golden chances that you hate to see slip away. In retrospect, of course, you'd rather see Sharp shoot (joke alert) there.
Nichushkin nearly set up another another goal with a relatively harmless shot in the second, as Mattias Janmark found a Nuke feed in front, only to have a would-be goal blocked by a Blues' posterior. Is there any better metaphor for this series that the Stars' offense being negated by a St. Louis butt? I submit that there is not.
Most Ales Hemsky Play of the Game, you ask? With around 14:00 remaining in the second, Hemsky carried the puck in on a 3-on-2. Sensing that both defenders were playing him high in expectation of a drop pass, one of our two favorite Czechs just slid past both defenders, but a desperation stick from Jori Lehtera shut down the sure goal at the last possible minute.
Board battles proved to be the Stars' enemy later on, as the Blues hemmed in the top line and eventually turned a broken pass play (and a glorious initial Lehtonen save) into a second-chance goal from a sharp angle. That one stung, after all the great chances Dallas had created. it stung a lot.
Cody Eakin had another wonderful chance go awry in front shortly thereafter, and it felt like all his good juju may have been cashed in for Game 4. Midway through the second, Dallas felt jinxed, as their numerous chances had still resulted in but a single goal, but the enormous Johns hit on Scottie Upshall got the crowd back into things, and Kari Lehtonen was forced to keep the crowd into things, until he couldn't. The third defense pair gave the puck away again, and Demers got crossed up on his coverage, leaving Brouwer wide open on the back door for a goal far easier than anything the Blues seemed likely to give the Stars.
I get that you want to "let 'em play," but Joel Edmundson pretty clearly wrapped up Nichushkin on the latter's move to the net early in the third. I'm not going to belabor the point that so many others have made, but St. Louis is the type of team that overtly benefits from such willful ignorance. Stephen Johns' getting accidentally gouged in the face by Upshall right afterwards without result from the zebras (who may not have seen it) was just further evidence of the officials' tacit admission of how this game was going to be played, although the Stars would finally get on the job in the third later on.
Eakin would get another gold-plated chance in front right after that, but this time it wasn't Eakin, but Brian Elliott who would defuse the goal explosion. This was the point of the game where a 3-2 series deficit started not just looming, but actually laughing over you, pointing its horrible, crooked finger in jeering hate.
David Backes would continue his Leadership Through Penalties, as the Stars' lobbying for the officials to please maybe do something finally found purchase. Ales Hemsky had the best chance of the power play, but Elliott once again shut down a high-danger chance with a tough save. It felt like one of those power plays that was a must-score, and you could feel the building deflate a bit after it failed to do so.
The future is bright in Dallas, as Nichushkin's power move to the middle created another chance for Demers, who would graze the outside of the post. Further to that point, Radek Faksa would again beat Elliott five-hole, but because Life Cannot Be Kind To Stars Fans, the puck merely slid out the other side without finding the net.
The Stars' second power play of the period started off woefully, but Ales Hemsky led the way of the Almosts, as he was unable to convert his own opportunity on the back door. Have I mentioned that the Stars are missing Tyler Seguin lately? The Stars are missing Tyler Seguin. The Stars missed Tyler Seguin, today.
A rather foolish slash along the boards by Mattias Janmark poisoned the dwindling well of Stars' hope late in the third, but it was hard to feel like it mattered all that much, given Dallas's inability to convert on their many chances up to that point.
Props to Fiddler for his '80s Oilers effort to get the game to 4-on-4 late, but the Blues' Hatred of Anything Exciting ate up almost the first half of the old-time hockey, and the Stars failed to create much on the back end of it either. Additionally, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted Kari Lehtonen to go full Patrick Roy up to the red line when the puck found him as he was later rushing to the bench again, but discretion was probably the better part of valor in that case, as it tends to be. Ultimately, of course, it didn't end up mattering.
There's hope, of course. There is always hope. Dallas just beat St. Louis on the road, and they will need to do so again with their backs to the wall for the first time in the playoffs. Get the disgust out of your system over the next two days, because I'm sure it's there. Matinee games are weird, and this game was just as matinee-ish feeling as all those weird Red Wings afternoon games on OLN ten years ago were.
There will be much debate about which goalie gets Game 6, but for my part, it has to be Lehtonen again, unless he truly does need a rest. Honestly, though, the goaltending will not be my concern. Dallas scored a single goal today despite out-chancing the Blues, and Brian Elliott was the number one star of the game. You are not going to win most games when the other team's goalie is the number one star of the game. I suspect that's what Mark Stepneski was getting at when he chose the three stars, and I, for one, would be hard-pressed to disagree with him at all. The team quite simply didn't get it done, and Brian Elliott did.
And thus began peak fervor of Tyler Seguin Watch, 2016.