Blues expose Stars in Game 3 rout to take series lead
The Dallas Stars got the start they wanted in Game 3. The St. Louis Blues got everything else.
The Blues allowed an early first-period tally to Colton Sceviour, then ripped off six unanswered goals to smoke the Stars 6–1 at Scottrade Center on Tuesday night.
The win gives the Blues a 2-1 edge in the series with Game 4 slated for Thursday night in St. Louis.
Here are three thoughts on this one-sided affair:
In the aftermath of Game 2, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said that the second was the best road period his team has played in the postseason.
The Blues went one better in Game 3. Their second period might have been the best 20 minutes they've played all season.
Forget the offensive outburst. Even without it, this was the perfect realization of Blues hockey. They were relentless on the forecheck, heavy on their sticks and won the board battles. They overwhelmed Dallas's defense, forcing positional breakdowns and a series of turnovers. They threw 39 shots at the Stars’ net and chased starter Antti Niemi. Their penalty kill remained perfect in the series, denying the Stars four times and their power play clicked twice on seven chances
They dominated every aspect of the game. And once they had their foot on the gas, they never let up.
Oh, and they were pretty good in the first and third as well.
This was the performance we knew the Blues had in them. Now that they've delivered it, let's see what they do for an encore.
If you want to win games during this time of year, you need your best players to be your best players. Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first goal of the series, added a pair of assists and landed eight shots on net. He turnstiled Dallas's defenders with his ability to change up his speed and direction. Alex Steen scored twice, including the game-changing goal 57 seconds after Colton Sceviour gave the Stars the early lead. Paul Stastny came to play, committing to a full effort on both sides of the puck.
But all of them rode the coattails of David Backes. The Blues' captain turned in another brilliant performance, scoring twice on the power play, including a world-class re-direct of a Kevin Shattenkirk slapper in the first that counted as the winner, and generally asserting himself as the alpha male all night long. He laid out Radek Faksa and Jason Spezza with big hits early on and went to the net with impunity, challenging Dallas's undersized defenders to move him out of the way.
They did not succeed.
Outside of a breakdown in discipline late in the game—he threw a chicken wing at Jamie Benn that the Stars captain fortunately dodged—this was a big-time effort from a player who looks capable of carrying his team deep into the playoffs.
So, what now, Lindy?
If this was a midseason game, the Stars would just burn the tape, forget it and move on.
They don't have that luxury in the playoffs.
Dallas has some serious issues to address ahead of Game 3, and you can guess waht No. 1 is. Coach Lindy Ruff made a surprising call in giving Niemi the start. His hunch backfired. Niemi was ineffective, allowing three goals on 12 shots before being replaced in the second period by Kari Lehtonen, who immediately allowed a pair of goals, neither of which should have eluded an NHL keeper.
We knew coming into this series, heck, coming into the playoffs, that the Stars were vulnerable between the pipes. Now we're seeing just how deeply flawed their tandem is. And after a series of soft games from both of them, you have to wonder if there's a path forward for eithe. Black Ace Jack Campbell should not be an option, but at this point he's not completely out of the question.
But as bad as the goaltending was, the defense was worse. They were lost in coverage, turned the puck over repeatedly and allowed more odd-man rushes than I could count. The worst offenders were the top pair of Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg. Again, we could see this coming. Their speed/transition game makes them deadly against many teams but they're being tenderized by St. Louis's forecheck. If they can't make better decisions with the puck, it won't matter who's in net.
Discipline is a problem. Benn took two frustration penalties. Antoine Roussel took a delay of game and has been in the box for three power-play goals-against in the past two contests.
And the Stars have to address their problems with leads. They've scored first in each of the three games, but have yet to extend the lead. In each of the past two, they've allowed the Blues to even it up in less than a minute.
All that said, the deficit is still just 2-1. A win Thursday night and the series comes down to a best-of-three with two games played in the friendly confines of the AAC.
But it's time for this team to man up. We'll see who answers the call.