Blues dominate Stars in Game 5 to take command of series
Ken Hitchcock came into Game 5 with the idea of changing things up. It wasn't long though before he realized that the old ways are the best ways.
After watching his team get outskated and outworked in the first period, the St. Louis Blues coach went back to some familiar lines. That move ignited their forecheck and helped the Blues come away with a decisive 4-1 win over the Stars Saturday afternoon in Dallas.
Robby Fabbri, Dmitri Jaskin, Troy Brouwer and Paul Stastny scored for St. Louis. Alex Goligoski replied for Dallas.
With the win, the Blues take a commanding 3-2 series lead. They'll look to book their ticket to the Western Conference final with a Game 6 win at home on Monday night.
Here are three thoughts on this swing game:
The second period hasn't been kind to the Blues during these playoffs. Heading into Game 5, they had allowed a league-high 14 goals in the middle stanza.
Not today. After letting the Stars set the pace in the first with their speed and transition, they turned this game around with a relentless forecheck and some aggressive defense in the neutral zone. The result: They outshot the Stars 11-6 and outscored them 2-0. And that was the game.
"Every time we adjust, we seem to play better," Hitchcock said. "We felt like we needed a different energy from our team and we got it."
Hitchcock's adjustments (primarily the switching of his left wings) got the Blues playing the way they play best. They ground down Dallas's defense with their physical play, keeping the Stars buried in their own zone. That led to turnovers and some high-quality chances.
"Best period of hockey we've played all year in the playoffs was that second period," he said.
Jaskin (his first playoff goal in his first game since April 7) and Brouwer (his seventh point in seven games), scored after the Blues had won board battles, controlled possession and got pucks to the net.
It's rarely pretty, but there was a little art to their efforts. Once they gained possession, the Blues did a nice job moving the puck from side to side. That led to some scrambly defense and opened lanes to the net, creating the second and third chances they needed to beat Kari Lehtonen.
Tip o' the cap to Brian Elliott, who did little in the second but came up huge in the third to preserve that two-goal lead. His two stops on Cody Eakin early in the frame sucked the wind out of the AAC and made it clear that the Blues weren't going to lose this one.
Two years ago, Jaromir Jagr said that it was only a matter of time before Dallas's Val Nichushkin was the best player in the league.
Not many are buying that line of hype these days. Nichushkin might be the NHL's most frustrating player. His inconsistency has him in and out of the lineup as he flashes skill one game and followed by complete indifference the next.
Saturday though gave us a glimpse of what Jagr was taking about. In fact, this might have been the best game since his rookie season two years ago.
"These last two games, he's played really well," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Almost looks back to himself."
Nichushkin was involved all afternoon, registering five shots (tied with teammate Ales Hemsky for the game high) and using his size to great effect down low.
That's really where it all happens for Nichushkin. If his feet are moving, and he's determined to get to the front of the net, there aren't many defenders who can stop him. But he has to commit to getting to the net. Settling for low-percentage backhands from the circle won't get it done.
There was a lot to like about Dallas's game Saturday. The Stars were the better team for long stretches of play, particularly throughout the first and later in the third periods, using their speed to open up the ice and gain entry into the offensive zone.
But they couldn't do anything once they got the zone. Or at least, they couldn't match the opportunism of the Blues. Passes went wide. Pucks bounced over sticks or were directed wide of the net.
Ruff said his team just didn't have any puck luck.
"If you look at the opportunities we had, you gotta cash in," he said. "When you get chances to execute and turn the game in your favor...we put ourselves in position five or six times to change the game, we didn't put it in the net."
That's the way it goes sometimes, even for the league's best offense. But the timing couldn't have been worse. Here the Stars were, facing their biggest challenge of the season in the third period, and they couldn't come up with the push they needed to get this thing tied up. Even a pair of power play opportunities couldn't generate the goals or the momentum to get back in the game.
So now they give up home ice to the Blues, who can end this series Monday night at Scottrade. It'll be interesting to see if the Stars will get Tyler Seguin or Patrick Eaves back in the lineup. Eaves appears to be closer, but Ruff said Seguin will skate Sunday and continues to be day-to-day.