Stars Aim to Finish Off Blues Tonight (Game 6)
For a team with a defense-first identity, the Stars are making a habit of getting chances on the rush. A change in strategy, or just part of taking what’s available?
The first period of Game 5 in St. Louis looked like a violent game of Whack-a-Mole. The St. Louis Blues were hitting everything that moved. I wasn’t able to get the radio feed synchronized, so it was the national broadcast at my house, and you could feel the intense pleasure oozing out of the old school hockey guys reporting on the game.
The problem was, all those hits resulted in zero pucks in the net, and it’s pucks in the net that lead to wins. The Dallas Stars rolled with the body blows, and then spent much of the rest of the night throwing jabs in the guise of rush chances.
By the time the teams made it to the third period, the Blues’ commitment to hitting faded. The Stars frequently were able to get clean, uncontested zone exits, or at least high flips to relieve forechecking pressure. For all the hitting, it was mostly bluster. The Stars saved their physicality for establishing a presence in the crease.
During the Nashville series, the Predators devolved into hitting for hitting’s sake. Hits aren’t goals, and there is a tenuous correlation at best between the two. The Blues can bring a heavier game than the Predators, however, and fans can now see similar frustrations creeping into their game.
As the old hockey guys say, take the hit to make a play. So far, the Stars have been making the plays. And when something goes wrong, Ben Bishop has been there to clean up the mess.
Getting accurate lineups for a game that starts at 2 p.m. CDT is going to be problematic. The Blues have only made one lineup change all playoffs, with winger Zachary Sanford playing three games. At this point, they are probably better off trying to get more out of who they have than by bringing in fresh legs.
For the Stars, Mattias Janmark drew in for Game 5, but also took a few hits and briefly went down the tunnel. If he can’t go, expect that Tyler Pitlick would draw in on the right side of the fourth line. Again, I’d consider Valeri Nichushkin on the left, but that ship has probably sailed.
Dillon Heatherington was solid in his eight minutes of action, but if either Joel Hanley or Taylor Fedun can go, Heatherington is back skating with the Black Aces. After his Game 4 performance, I’d expect Hanley is first back in if he’s healthy. Heatherington should, however, have some nice playoff memories after his Game 5 performance, including this crease clear on Oskar Sundqvist.
Hetherington doing Heatherington things. This one on Perron's shot off the pipe in game 5. Sundqvist with the driveby, and Heater just plants him. Not too bad for a Black Ace. pic.twitter.com/FM9eOSqWS0— Mark D Zimmerman (@HitZIceSTAT) May 4, 2019
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
Dillon Heatherington - 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 - Joel Edmundson
A team doesn’t want to make large adjustments at this point in the season. For St. Louis, they went all in for hitting during a first period outburst on Friday night. However, what’s really worked for them has been the cycle game. It takes more energy to defend the cycle than it does to run it, so the theory would be to work the Dallas defense into submission.
For the Stars, they need to be ready to face the Blues’ desperation with energy of their own. Survive the first five minutes and work the process. St. Louis will be pressing, but Dallas have proven throughout the playoffs that a well-placed jab keeps an opponent off-balance. So far, that strategy has led to a series win over Nashville and 3-2 series lead against St. Louis. It’s likely the Stars’ best path to a series-clinching victory.