The old adage, “it’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,” has always been a bit mystifying to me. On one hand, there seems to be a bit of hope in that old quote, alluding to the all important quality of picking yourself up after you’ve been knocked to the ground. However, on the other hand, you may be able to finish what you started, but starting so poorly can result in an undesirable finish.
The Stars will finish the game, but how they start could determine what that finish might look like.
The Stars were notorious for their slow starts during the regular season; a trait that followed them into the post season.
For whatever reason, the Stars tended to start games slowly, absorbing body blows in the first five minutes and relying on goaltending to weather that early storm. More times than not Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin had been able to save the team in front of them, as they began to push in the second half of the first period and reached their peak in the second frame.
However, in the second round against the Blues, the Stars have not been weathering that early storm.
Through the first six games of this series the Stars have fallen behind in the first six minutes four times. To make matters worse, the Stars have fallen behind in the opening two minutes of the game twice. The Stars are 1-3 in the series when falling behind first, and 2-0 when scoring the first goal. The club that has scored the first goal of the game in this series has won five of the six contests. In fact, over the season series between these two teams, the club to score the first goal has won every game with the exception of the Stars’ Game 4 victory, in which they came back from an early 1-0 deficit.
To really drive home the point of how important the first period is in this series: the team that has left the first period with the lead is 4-0. Only twice in the first six games has the first period ended in a tie, and the Blues have won both of those games. The Blues also opened the scoring in those two contests (Games 3 and 6).
The Stars have also made a poor habit of falling behind in the hockey game throughout the playoffs, even going back to the series against the Nashville Predators. In the six game series against Nashville, the Stars fell behind first in four of the six games. Amazingly the Stars would win three of those games, and go .500 in games in which they scored first. In the decisive Game 6 in Dallas, the Stars fell behind 1-0.
What didn’t prove fatal against the Predators is absolutely proving fatal against a better St.Louis team in a physically pounding series that has tested both clubs.
The Stars have been forced to play from behind in four of the six games in this series, and chasing hockey is losing hockey.
Plain and simple.
The Blues have done a masterful job of starting the game on their toes and taking advantage of the opening moments to catch Dallas unaware. The Blues have not allowed the first shift to be a settling experience for Dallas, and have countered that with tone-setting shifts of their own. By my count, the first four shifts of the game for the Blue have been better than the first four for Dallas, and that includes the Game 5 win for the Stars in St.Louis.
This is compounded by the fact that the first five minutes of a period can often be the most chaotic. The first shifts are going, nobody is settled in, and there is space in the game for mistakes. The Blues seem to recognize the importance of this in the first period and have made the Stars pay dearly for their inability to push back in the opening moments.
For the Stars, the opening five to six minutes of Game 7 could be the most critical moments of the hockey game. If the Stars are down once again in the early moments, the team will be chasing for the tie, and hoping for the next goal to be theirs. As the road team, the first goal for the Blues would also swing the building into a frenzy and relax the Blues on their home ice.
Not much more needs to be said other than, if the Stars have designs on stealing another road game in St.Louis and advancing to the Western Conference Finals, the message is simple.
Start fast and score first.