A lot has been written about how the St. Louis Blues appear to be the team they were meant to be all season long before injuries derailed things.
They were the hottest team in the West after the All-Star break at the end of January, accumulating a 23-6-4 record in that time. A lot of credit can be laid at the feet of Jordan Binnington, the rookie netminder for the Blues. His incredible play helped spark the turnaround of a team that found themselves nearly dead last in the league before their run. Binnington put up a .927 save percentage and a sparkling 1.89 goals against average in the 32 games in which he appeared.
As the team got healthier, and with Binnington there to bail the guys out when needed, the Blues finally looked like the Central Division beasts most expected heading into the season. They were a lucky break away from finishing atop the Central Division in the regular season, when the Nashville Predators won their last game of the season to push them into third place instead.
Know who gave the Blues two of those six regulation losses down the stretch? The Dallas Stars, with a 5-2 decision on February 21st, which actually ended the Blues 11-game win streak, and a 4-1 decision on March 4th.
Narratives out of St. Louis are that the Stars haven’t faced off against the Blues since they became the team that they are now. But the argument could be made that the Blues haven’t seen the Stars at their full potential either. So while many will think that the Stars are edged out in the series before the puck drops by the Blues, I can’t help but look back at the fact that Dallas was one of the few teams that made Binnington look absolutely human in net.
And that was before they established a true second line capable of putting pucks in the net with the addition of Mats Zuccarello and the emergence of Roope Hintz as a dominant force. It’s before Ben Bishop had his three shutout games in a row down the stretch in the midst of a consistently good campaign all season long that made him Vezina-worthy in the eyes of general managers around the league.
Dallas was the second best team in the West since the All-Star break, putting up a 19-11-3 record. This series is going to be closer than most experts picking the Blues as a heavy favorite realize. The “complete” teams of the Blues and Stars are a lot closer to equal in terms of talent and defensive ability. It could come down to which goaltender is better — and in that regard, with the experience of Bishop and the Stars’ confidence knowing they’ve beaten Binnington before this season, the Stars hold an edge.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Mattias Janmark appears ready to go after an awkward fall into the boards in which I honestly thought he broke his ankle. Apparently he is made of gumby-style material and is in the lineup for Game 1 of Round 2. After taking maintenance days at practice, Alexander Radulov and Mats Zuccarello both should be in the lineup tonight.
The only other tweak from the roster that closed out the team’s Round 1 series win over the Nashville Predators is the insertion of Taylor Fedun on the third defensive pairing. Jamie Oleksiak is out with a lower-body injury. Here’s the full Stars lineup expected tonight:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Jason Dickinson - Roope Hintz - Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Jason Spezza
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun - Ben Lovejoy
Ben Bishop in net.
St. Louis Blues Lineup
David Perron - Ryan O’Reilly - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Brayden Schenn - Oskar Sundqvist
Pat Maroon - Tyler Bozak - Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri - Ivan Barbashev - Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Vince Dunn
Jordan Binnington in net.