Following a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 on Tuesday, the Dallas Stars seemed a bit fragile emotionally.
They had suffered a rare blowout loss in the playoffs, they complained about a blown kiss from Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves and were dealing with a goaltending quagmire since neither Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi had seemingly found a way to lock down the starter’s job.
The Stars took another hit early in Game 4 on Thursday when Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko sailed in alone on Lehtonen and gave his team the lead.
But instead of cracking under the pressure, the Stars responded. Lehtonen turned in a huge save when Troy Brouwer broke in alone, then had a bit of good fortune when Tarasenko got free for another breakaway but this time sent his shot off the goalpost instead of the back of the net.
Given the Blues’ inability to cash in on more early chances when they were vulnerable, the Stars regrouped and forged ahead on goals by Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 69 seconds apart.
The Blues battled back to tie it 2-2, but Dallas managed to pull out an overtime victory on a pinpoint shot by Cody Eakin in overtime.
“I don’t think we let up. I just think they made some big saves,” said Blues center Paul Stastny, who scored the tying goal. “In the game before, Moose (Brian Elliott) made a couple big saves before we started taking a lead. It’s not easy to score in this league, when you do get those chances, early on, when we’re up 1-0, we have the power play, our mindset was to try to get that other goal, especially in the first period to kind of put them away.
“You never know how teams will react to that and unfortunately we couldn’t (put them away).”
Both teams have enjoyed stretches of dominant play during the series.
“Each team has been able to impose their will at different times and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think they’re a good enough team to at certain times impose their will and I think that we were able to impose some of our will last game.
“They came out, we were careless early and I thought our goaltender made a couple of fabulous saves for us, and then I thought we were able to get our game going and push them back. It’s two good teams who refuse to go away.”
All of which sets up an extremely interesting Game 5 at noon Saturday in Dallas.
“We’re all tied up here and we’ve got to put this one behind us like we put the other ones behind us,” Blues captain David Backes said after the Game 3 defeat. “Worry about going in there Saturday afternoon and winning a game.”
That the Blues have been involved in two overtime games in the second round shouldn’t be surprising. Before Friday, six of the first 15 second-round playoffs games in the NHL reached overtime, including Nashville’s wild 4-3 triple-overtime victory Thursday over San Jose.
Ironically, the Blues have a better road record in the playoffs (3-2) than they do at home (3-3). Three of their four overtime playoff games were played at Scottrade Center, with the Blues winning only one of them.
Counting the regular season, the Blues are 11-4 in their last 15 road games. Maybe another trip to Dallas is what they need.
“When we get away from our building, I think we play a simple game,” Brouwer said. “We pride ourselves with playing a simple game to start with, getting pucks behind them, getting in on the forecheck, trying to create offense from behind their goal line.
“Sometimes when you’re at home, you feel like you have to impress a little bit more.”
Against Chicago, the Blues built a 3-1 series lead only watch the Blackhawks win the next two to force a Game 7. The Blues advanced, but failed at an opportunity to put the Stars in a 3-1 hole.
“We’re set up to be resilient and believe in our system,” Backes said. “We need to go out there and know that we need 60 minutes of it to be successful. When we do that, we’re right where we need to be.”
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it’s important to keep his team focused on what each player can do to get better. Not on media-drive storylines and narratives that fill newspapers and websites during the playoffs.
“I think you in this business, you really need to get rid of the white noise,” Hitchcock said. “The white noise around it ... there’s so much of it around our business now, it’s like everything in sports and entertainment. You need to really narrow your focus; we’ve learned over time to just eliminate all the talk and whatever happened the day before, we leave it right there and focus on us.
“If you spend any time on the opposition, it’s like the white noise. You just get overwhelmed by it.”
Lehtonen came on in relief on Niemi in Game 3 and was extremely sharp in Game 4, turning away 24 of 26 shots. Many of those saves had a high degree of difficulty.
“It wasn’t a perfect game or up to the level we played in Game 3,” Backes said. “They played a better game I think overall and it was one of those tight-knit games where you knew it would probably take overtime. It did take overtime ... they get the chance and they’re able to make good on it.”
Upon further review
Hitchcock didn’t seem eager to heap criticism on rookie defnseman Joel Edmundson after Edmundon’s critical turnover in the second period Thursday led to a big goal by the Stars’ Faksa.
“I don’t want to get into going after a guy — wrong time to do it,” Hitchcock said. “Young player, they’re going to make mistakes. Pretty rich competition, too.”
Elliott said it was important for Edmundson to forget about the mistake and move on, focusing on playing better as things roll forward.
“Yeah, those things happen,” Elliott said. “You just kind of have to forget about it, shake it off and go out and make your next shift your best. The same with me, don’t let anything faze you, just keep plugging away, and we did a good job. We tied it up.”
Blues at Stars
Noon Saturday (NBC)
Both teams have split two games on home ice, so this is a big chance for Dallas to take advantage of the home ice it gained by winning on the last day of the regular season. The Stars earned that home ice advantage by edging the Blues by one win for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Cody Eakin vs. Paul Stastny
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been trying to get Stastny and linemates Alex Steen and Troy Brouwer out against Eakin, Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp. Stastny (56.8 percent) has been killing Eakin (48.5 percent) on faceoffs, but Eakin scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 4 and Dallas won the head-to-head battle.
That was the time on ice for Stars defenseman John Klingberg. Fellow defenseman Alex Goligoski logged 24:59 for the Stars. While Stars fans worry about potential turnovers, Goligoski leads the playoffs in SAT (a statistic that measures shot attempts at even strength) at plus-69. Klingberg is third at plus-63. Coach Lindy Ruff said he will continue to ride his puck possession pair.
Stars: RW Patrick Eaves (lower body) is questionable. C Tyler Seguin (lower body) is out.
Stars winger Patrick Sharp had a goal, an assist, and seven shots on goal in Game 4...Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 24 shots in Game 4 and is expected to get the start in Game 5...St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo played 31:29 in Game 4. He is fourth in average time on ice in the playoffs at 30:11...Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko is third in the playoffs in shots on goal at 41...Stars captain Jamie Benn leads the NHL in playoff scoring with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 10 games.
Three of the four games in the Stars-Blues series have been decided by one goal and two have been settled in overtime.
▪ The Stars are 3-2 at home in the playoffs, including 1-1 vs. St. Louis.
▪ The Blues are 3-2 on the road in the playoffs.
▪ Among goaltenders with three or more decisions, Dallas' Kari Lehtonen's .833 winning percentage (5-1) was the second-best in the playoffs through Thursdays' games. Only Pittsburgh's Matt Murray's .857 (6-1) was better.
▪ Stars captain Jamie Benn led the NHL playoffs in scoring through Thursday's games with 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists).
▪ Through Thursday, Stars center Radek Faksa was tied for the lead in goals (3) among rookies in the NHL playoffs and was tied for third in points (5). Blues forward Robby Fabbri led all rookies in points with 8 (1 goal, 7 assists).