Overtime games in the playoffs can drag on forever — or end painfully soon for the team giving up a goal.
A sellout crowd of 19,776 at Scottrade Center experienced the painful side of that equation Thursday as Cody Eakin’s goal 2 minutes, 58 seconds into overtime lifted the Dallas Stars to a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues and evened the second-round playoff series at two games apiece.
“We were embarrassed in Game 3,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said of the Blues’ 6-1 victory Tuesday. “I said it’s time for us to man up.”
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The Stars weren’t the aggressors, but got the goal that counted to snap a 2-2 tie after the Blues just missed scoring at the other end. Vladimir Tarasenko set up Jori Lehtera in the slot, but Eakin got a piece of Lehtera’s stick and play quickly shifted in the other direction.
Patrick Sharp spied Eakin headed down the left side and sent the puck in his direction. Eakin did the rest, lifting a high shot past Blues goaltender Brian Elliott to give the Stars new life in the series.
“That was that ugly shift leading up to the goal there, they applied some pressure,” Eakin said. “I just went for a hit and collided with one of their guys’ glove. Just a little bloody, that’s it. That’s the nice thing about finishing first, we’ve got home court advantage back and it’s a race to two. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Elliott said he felt the shot was a pretty good one.
“They made a good play, cross-ice through a seam and had a heck of a shot ... not much room up there,” said Elliott, who stopped 25 of 28 shots. “It almost looks like it goes on the outside of the net and in, that’s how close it was. Just regroup and go take a game from their barn.”
Game 5 is set for noon Saturday in Dallas, which has wrestled back home-ice advantage in a best-of-three showdown.
“We think of it as one game,” Blues captain David Backes said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re in Dallas, if we’re in St. Louis, if we’re in the middle of nowhere. We’ve got to play our same style of game, put it out there and when we do that the chips fall on our side of the table more often than not. That’s our focus right now.”
It was the fourth overtime outing in 11 playoff games by the Blues and they have split the four games.
The Blues’ best period was the first, when they were buzzing the net and peppering goaltender Kari Lehtonen with good chances. They got an early breakaway goal by Tarasenko, but had nothing else to show for that solid start.
“We didn’t bury them when we had the chance,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We let them off the mat with those two quick goals. I thought in the third period we were a little bit inconsistent with our puck management, but had all the chances at the start and didn’t extend the 1-0 lead.”
The Blues sent the game tied 2-2 into the third period after Paul Stastny’s goal helped rescue an otherwise dismal stretch of play in the middle stanza, but neither team could find a goal as the contest pushed on into overtime.
A tight-checking first period finally led to a scoring chance for the Blues.
Despite the Stars having six players on the ice, a pass from Jaden Schwartz sent Tarasenko flying in alone on goaltender Kari Lehtonen. A Travis Moen turnover helped send the whole thing into motion.
Tarasenko waited patiently — he had no choice since no one was around — before sending a shot through Lehtonen’s pads for his sixth goal of the playoffs. It also was his 16th goal in 24 career playoff games.
The six Dallas players on the ice were defensemen Kris Russell and Jason Demers and forwards Brett Ritchie, Moen, Vernon Fiddler and Ales Hemsky. Ritchie was the only one in the group that didn’t receive a “minus” on the play on the plus-minus statistics.
“Six guys on the ice, that was on me,” Ruff said. “That was my responsibility and my mistake. I said we had six guys on and still couldn’t defend Tarasenko, which is kind of ironic.”
Lehtonen helped keep things close when he turned away a shot by Troy Brouwer after Brouwer broke in alone and took a pass from Alexander Steen.
Tarasenko just missed a second goal later in the opening period, this time ringing his shot off the goalpost instead of finding the back of the net.
Blues forward Ryan Reaves, whose blown-kiss gesture angered the Stars late in Game 3, leveled Ritchie with a powerful hit late in the first period.
That inability to cash in on several early chances came back to bite the Blues in the second period.
A rough giveaway by Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson, who put the puck right onto the stick of Radek Faksa, led to the Stars’ tying goal 4:05 into the period.
With no one around him, Edmundson tried to clear the puck up the middle and Faksa was more than happy to take advantage with an unassisted goal.
Just 1:09 later, Patrick Sharp’s fourth playoff goal put the Stars on top as he banged in a loose puck after Jamie Benn pushed it into a great spot in the crease.
Faksa picked off another giveaway later in the second period, but Elliott denied him a second goal with a good save.
Stastny tied it 2-2 with a power-play goal at the 13:06 mark of the second period. He was able to redirect a pass from Tarasenko and collected his first goal in 11 playoff games this season.
The assist led to another multi-point game for Tarasenko, who has two goals and five points in his last two games.
Steen toe-dragged his way around a defenseman and got off a good shot early in the third period, but Lehtonen stood his ground.
Elliott was also sharp in the third period, twice making tough saves on Sharp.
St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and outfielder Matt Holliday were at the game and received a huge ovation when shown on the video scoreboard during the first period. Molina, decked out in a Blues jersey, helped the Cardinals to a 4-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies earlier Thursday at Busch Stadium. Holliday, wearing a Blues hat, also got a nice ovation when shown on the scoreboard in the third period, as did teammates Jhonny Peralta and Carlos Martinez.