David Backes picked up a rebound and beat Antti Niemi 10:58 into overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon.
Alex Goligoski gave the Stars a 1-0 lead just 2:36 in, but the Blues responded with goals from Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundsson and Troy Brouwer to take a 3-1 lead after one. The Blues appeared to be in control until Dallas evened it with a pair of third-period goals from Mattias Janmark and Jamie Benn to send the game to extra time.
Dallas had the second best home record in the NHL during the regular season at 28-11-2 and had won nine of its past 10 at the American Airlines Center before dropping Game 2.
With the win, the Blues even the series at one game apiece and gain home-ice advantage. Game 3 is Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Here are three thoughts on Sunday's game:
Mission accomplished...sort of
The Blues made it clear what they wanted to do differently in the wake of their Game 1 loss: get pucks deep, hustle in on the forecheck and lay a beating on Dallas’s defense.
For 40 minutes, they did just that. Building on a strong third period in Game 1, they drove pucks to the right places, they won the battles and they punished anyone in a green sweater. They outhit the Stars 42-23, targeting John Klingberg seven times and Benn five. Backes and Paul Stastny (!) led the hit parade with seven each. And as a result, they had the Stars hemmed in their zone for long stretches, and gummed up the transition that beat them in Game 1. And when they went on the attack, they came in waves, sending pucks and bodies to create the kind of havoc that was missing in the opener. It was nearly perfect.
And then they took their foot off the gas. Again.
It's been a habit of this team for years now, and it almost cost it here. The Blues spent the entire third period playing a prevent game and almost prevented themselves from winning as a result. They got just two shots in the period and let the Stars run up their count (they eventually reached 34). Brian Elliott was great, again, but he can't be the fail-safe every night. Dallas has too much talent. Sleeping on the Stars for even a few minutes can be fatal. Doing it for 20? They're lucky they got away with this one.
Both teams made changes to their roster in Game 2. One worked decidedly better than the other.
Ken Hitchcock tapped Ryan Reaves for Steve Ott and he did the job he's paid to do. Despite skating just eight shifts (including two in the third/OT), Reaves was a major presence and a key reason the Blues were able to establish their physical game early. He trucked an unsuspecting Cody Eakin on his first shift and ragdolled big Radek Faksa just minutes later. Maybe it's no surprise the Blues played with less urgency when he was stapled on the bench late.
With Patrick Eaves injured in Game 1 (leg), Dallas coach Lindy Ruff turned to Valeri Nichushkin. Based on his “efforts” Sunday, it should be the last time we see him. According to Ruff, the big winger was given simple instructions: skate hard, compete for pucks and earn his ice and he did none of those things. He was slow on the forecheck, soft in his battles and timid with possession. Worse, he failed to use his generous size, settling for stick checks instead of burying Blues every chance he got. He was basically an empty sweater, and after taking a lazy hooking penalty, he was all but relegated to grocery stick duty.
If Eaves isn't good to go in Game 3, look for Brett Ritchie to make his playoff debut. The rookie winger brought a reliable physical element to the Stars during a March call-up, invigorating the Stars on their late-season run to the division title.
You know what you get with Antoine Roussel. When he's playing on the right side of the edge, he can be one of the most effective, and aggravating, depth forwards in the league. But when he's off, he can cost you a game.
It's unfair to simply hand him the goat horns from Sunday’s loss. After all, the entire team was on its heels when it ran into the Blues buzzsaw early. Kari Lehtonen, who came into the game with a 2.01 GAA and a .925 save percentage and a chance to seize control of the No. 1 job, was soft as a kitten, allowing three goals on just five shots before being replaced by Antti Niemi. The power play was anemic, missing the net-front presence of Eaves and the quick trigger of Tyler Seguin. And as group, they got away from everything that worked for them in Game 1: the quick outs, the fusillade of shots, the bodies crashing the nets.
And if not for a couple of stellar plays from their captain (his big hit/sweet sauce combo on the Goligoski goal was #peakBenn), this thing would have been over right on time.
But it was Roussel who took a boneheaded penalty, his third of the game, no less, midway through OT when he interfered with a St. Louis defender at the offensive blue line. It was blatant and it was needless. Seconds later, Backes buried the winner.
All 20 members of the Stars played a role in that loss. But it was Roussel who skated out of the box as the Blues celebrated.