It’s rare to find so many NHL experts agreeing on one thing, but the St. Louis Blues are running well ahead of the Dallas Stars when it comes to predicting what should be an exciting second-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
USA Today’s five experts, led by longtime NHL beat writer Kevin Allen, all chose the Blues to beat the Stars in either six or seven games. Among five Stars writers and columnists at the Dallas Morning News led by longtime beat writer Mike Heika, they gave a 5-0 vote to the Blues winning the series.
Two CBSSports.com writers both picked the Blues to win in six, while a panel of nine NHL experts, including some former players, gave the Blues eight picks to win as opposed to one for Dallas.
Why the across the board support for the Blues? They did win four of five regular-season meetings over the Stars, but three of those came in overtime.
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The Blues are a bigger, deeper team both at forward and defense. The Stars’ defense and goaltending gave up an unusually high amount of goals (16) in the first round to a Minnesota Wild team that was missing injured offensive threats Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek.
Also looming large over the series for the Stars is the availability of injured star forward Tyler Seguin. Seguin, second on the team in scoring with this season with 33 goals and 73 points. He has missed 15 of the team’s last 16 games since suffering a torn Achilles tendon March 17 and is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series.
Here’s a positional breakdown of the Blues and Stars:
Dallas loves to run a high-tempo attack utilizing elite skill and skating, leading the NHL in scoring this season at 3.2 goals per game. A high-scoring trio led by Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp should keep the Blues’ defense and goaltender Brian Elliott under constant alert. Benn and Spezza combined for eight goals and 19 points in six games against the Wild.
The Blues have a much more balanced offense and their ability to wear teams down with their size and grinding should also be a factor. Another area to watch is the Blues’ larger defensemen using their bodies and reach to thwart the Stars’ forwards.
How balanced were the Blues in their first-round win? They got goals from 12 different players led by Vladimir Tarasenko (four) and Jaden Schwartz (three) and have scoring on the STL Line (Schwartz, Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera). Big, versatile forwards like Troy Brouwer, David Backes, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund mesh well with Tarasenko and energetic rookie Robby Fabbri.
Keep an eye on Dallas’ Antoine Roussel and Blues’ veteran and former Stars player Steve Ott, two of the top agitators in the NHL.
This is an area where the Blues should enjoy a healthy advantage. While Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester both endured some rough moments against the Blackhawks, both figure to rebound in a more wide-open series putting an emphasis on skating. Blues star Alex Pietrangelo played the best playoff series of his young career with shut-down defense and also contributed a goal and six points and 30 minutes a night. Blues rookie Colton Parayko had two goals against the ‘Hawks and his big shot is a major weapon. Dallas lacks the big, workhorse defensemen some teams enjoy in the playoffs like Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, instead relying on a smaller defense corps led by steady Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg. Don’t underestimate the value of Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya, who was sorely missed by the ‘Hawks against the Blues in Round 1. A key stat from Round 1: Chicago has two of the top forwards on the planet in NHL regular-season scoring leader Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and the Blues held them to one goal, by Kane.
Stars goalie Antti Niemi has a Stanley Cup ring won with the Blackhawks, but the Stars used both Niemi and Kari Lehtonen against Minnesota in the openign round. Brian Elliott, one of the league’s best goaltenders toward the end of the regular season, won his first playoff series with the Blues. Elliott was 4-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, turning in exceptional play as the Blues rolled to an early 3-1 lead in the series. If Elliott were to falter, Blues goalie Jake Allen owns three wins against the Stars this season.
PREDICTION: Blues in six games
NHL Second-Round Playoff Schedule
St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars
Friday, April 29
Game 1: Blues at Dallas, 7 p.m. (NBCSN, TVA Sports)
Sunday, May 1
Game 2: Blues at Dallas, 2 p.m. (KSDK Channel 5; TVA Sports)
Tuesday, May 3
Game 3: Dallas at Blues, 8:30 p.m. (USA, TVA Sports)
Thursday, May 5
Game 4: Dallas at Blues, 7 p.m. (NBCSN, TVA Sports)
Saturday, May 7
Game 5: Blues at Dallas, TBA
Monday, May 9
Game 6: Dallas at Blues, TBA
Wednesday, May 11
Blues at Dallas, TBA