After failing twice to close out the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues find themselves in a familiar spot once again.
Staring at Game 7, this time in enemy territory.
The Blues fell behind 3-0 early in Game 6 and despite a frenetic comeback still lost 3-2 to the Dallas Stars on Monday in Game 6. The series returns to Dallas for Game 7 on Wednesday, where the Blues have won two of three games.
“That’s a big hole to dig yourself out of in the playoffs,” Blues forward Alexander Steen said of the early deficit. “We made an attempt; we played well after we gave up the third one and started focusing on just gaining momentum and territory bit by bit. We certainly had our fair share of chances to tie it up. Now we’re heading back to Dallas.”
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The Blues have a better road record in the playoffs (4-2) than they do at home (3-4) and twice have failed to close out the opposition on home ice.
The Stars scored three times in the first period to chase goaltender Brian Elliott, then hung on the rest of the way and avoided elimination despite being outshot 37-14. Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen was a big part of the victory, stopping 35 of 37 shots while the Blues sent 19 more shots his way that missed the target. Dallas also blocked 19 shots, so the Blues wound up with only two goals on 75 shot attempts.
The Blues are trying to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2001. They also struggled to close out their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, watching a 3-1 series lead evaporate into a 3-3 deadlock before winning Game 7 in St. Louis.
Dallas last reached the Western Conference finals in 2008, losing to Detroit.
The Blues pulled Jake Allen for an extra attacker and nearly got the equalizer on a late shot by Jaden Schwartz from the slot, but Lehtonen came up with a big stop.
With the Blues trailing 3-1 heading into the third period, a goal by Patrik Berglund at the 8:59 mark fired up the standing-room only sellout crowd of 19,808 at Scottrade Center.
David Backes worked the puck in front to Jori Lehtera, whose slick pass found its way to Berglund for his third goal of the playoffs.
The Stars were dominated after grabbing the early lead, managing only seven shots the rest of the night after scoring their third goal with 3:11 remaining in the first period.
“What we’re confident in is when we play our best hockey game they can’t play with us,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “We saw that tonight in the second and third (period). When they play their style well, it’s something that doesn’t suit us well. I think we know what do to get to our game and we can do it.
“We’ve won twice in their building already. I don’t think it matters where you play a Game 7,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I thought when we made it 3-2 we thought we were going to win. We didn’t play well for 7-8 minutes and unfortunately we got burned because of it. Same thing happened to them in Game 5.”
Hitchcock gave an ominous answer when asked about his starting goalie for Game 7.
“I want to sleep on what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ll let you know on game day.”
No one in the Blues dressing room was blaming Elliott for the poor start.
“No, no. I mean, the guy has carried us,” Hitchcock said of Elliott, 7-5 before Monday with a 2.20 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. “You’re doing something to help the team. This isn’t a reflection on Brian. The is something to help the team. He’s carried us and he’s been doing this thing for two months now.
“The guy has had a hell of a March and a hell of an April and a hell of a May. That’s the way you can say it.”
After falling behind 3-0, the Blues finally awakened from their first-period slumber. The alarm clock went off about the time Elliott was replaced by Allen after Elliott allowed three goals on the Stars’ first seven shots.
Allen made his 2016 playoff debut. The Blues’ 2015 playoff starter was playing for the first time since April 3 when he left the Colorado game with a lower-body injury.
Allen said no one had to say anything to Elliott after the first period ended.
“No, he’s the ultimate pro and he’ll definitely be ready,” Allen said. “He’s been our best player on the team the whole playoffs and he’ll be ready to go again.”
Lehtonen was under siege throughout the second period and he made a sparkling glove save to rob Vladimir Tarasenko early in the period.
Steen brought the sellout crowd to its feet when he hammered home a long rebound off a shot by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. It was Steen’s fourth goal of the playoffs and third in six games in the Stars’ series.
Hitchcock began tinkering with his lineup looking for more offense, moving Steen to center on a line with Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz and pairing rookie Colton Parayko with Kevin Shattenkirk on defense.
It was a nightmare of a first period for a Blues team bent on trying to close out the series Monday night.
Mattias Janmark struck first 4 minutes, 53 seconds into the game, beating Elliott on a high shot to the glove side after taking off on a partial breakaway. The breakout began when Janmark partially blocked a pass from the right point by Parayko.
Twenty seconds later the Stars made it 2-0 when Vernon Fiddler redirected a pass from Colton Sceviour past Elliott. It was the first two-goal lead of the series for Dallas.
The Blues had opportunities to cut into the lead, but eight of their first 13 shots sent in the direction of Lehtonen missed the net entirely.
With Blues winger Troy Brouwer in the penalty box for cross-checking, Dallas made it 3-0 when Jason Spezza scored after defenseman Jay Bouwmeester lost an edge and fell to the ice.
Spezza moved in quickly and dragged the puck around Scottie Upshall, waiting patiently before beating Elliott with a quick shot. It was Spezza’s first goal of the series to go along with three assists.