The Dallas Stars did what they needed to do Wednesday night at American Airlines Center, guaranteeing at least a return trip home for a sixth game in their Divisional Final series against the St. Louis Blues.
That just ratchets up the stakes for a critical Game 5 in St. Louis tonight. Both teams have demonstrated their own type of physicality throughout the series. For the Blues, it is brute power. For the Stars, it isn’t necessarily a heavy game, but power tempered with speed.
The shenanigans escalated on Wednesday night, with Ben Bishop taking two slashes. The one to the stick at the end of the second period drew a penalty, and it came at the end of a tirade by Jordan Binnington following a cup check by Jamie Benn.
There are dual narratives on Binnington. The story out of St. Louis is that he is unflappable, never gets nervous. On the other hand, the Stars have witnessed Binnington on several occasions go ballistic when on the wrong side of a lopsided score. There is a history here.
Binnington doesn’t like to lose, which is understandable. Of course, if the way to get him off his game is to put up big numbers against him, you might as well not worry about getting in his head. Just go ahead and score the goals. Nothing succeeds like success.
The interesting thing is, this year, those games that push him over the edge seem to be against teams that are named “Stars.” Everybody has their kryptonite, so that might just enter into an on-ice conversation or at least a chirp.
The adjustments that Dallas made for Game 4 could not have gone better. In particular, the Tyler Seguin and the Radek Faksa lines were effective against their respective St. Louis top line and checking lines. In chances, the Roope Hintz line held their own against the Blues second line.
Playing with a lead, the Stars kept the defensive pairs together. John Klingberg and Esa Lindell dominated in scoring chances. The second and third pairs both gave up the bulk of the shots while they were on the ice, but those shots were mostly from the outside. Low-risk defense is what you need when you have a decent lead.
St. Louis kept their lines in place from Game 3. Within the top nine forwards, this lineup has been solid, especially the Tyler Bozak checking line when they can get into a cycle. Defensively, Robert Bortuzzo saw limited minutes and was not the physical presence that he has been since drawing in for Joel Edmundson.
Dallas Stars Lineup
Jason Dickinson - Tyler Seguin - Mats Zuccarello
Jamie Benn - Roope Hintz - Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark - Justin Dowling - Jason Spezza
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Roman Polak
Joel Hanley - Ben Lovejoy
St. Louis Blues Lineup
Jaden Schwartz - Ryan O’Reilly - Vladimir Tarasenko
David Perron - Brayden Schenn - Oskar Sundqvist
Patrick Maroon - Tyler Bozak - Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri - Ivan Barbashev - Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn - Robert Bortuzzo
For Dallas, there is no need to overthink this, since most things worked as well as could be expected. As well as Hanley played, if Jamie Oleksiak is ready, he should draw in. In addition, a healthy Mattias Janmark’s speed has opened up some stretch pass opportunities, and I’d expect he could draw in if available. If not, as an alternative to Tyler Pitlick, Valeri Nichushkin’s size and puck movement would fit in well with the fourth line. It would also allow Jason Spezza to return to the right side.
For St. Louis, I’d expect the lineups to stay the same, unless there is a change on the third defensive pairing. The question is, what will the Blues do with last change? In Game 4, Dallas head coach Jim Montgomery seemed happy to just roll with matching lines, top on down. I’d expect that Craig Barube will look to isolate the Bozak line against one of the Stars’ top two lines. That puts their cycle game against a group that is more likely to want to push on offense than commit to disrupting the grind.
One thing that I’ve noticed about the Blues during this series is that other than Tarasenko, the players who have stood out for St. Louis have been the guys who play against type. Robert Thomas’ speed and Vince Dunn’s playmaking aren’t what you first think about when you consider the Blues, but they have both been difference makers. Maybe come playoff time, when a team prepares against a team’s identity, it’s the guys who work outside of that box who can tilt the series.