When the Stars’ defensive shell cracked and buckled, Ben Bishop provided an ironclad, 6’7” bomb shelter for his teammates to take cover in for 85-plus minutes. But, after 54 shots on net and at least another 40 errant shots later, Pat Maroon broke Bishop’s barrier and scored in double overtime to win 2–1 and to send the Blues to the Western Conference Final.
Two nights after staving off playoff elimination, the Blues struck first when defenseman Vince Dunn wristed a point shot through traffic and over Bishop’s right shoulder. But, less than three minutes later, Mats Zuccarello found a half-open net when David Perron pinballed the puck off his own boards, the ref and the net, and the Stars’ deadline acquisition proceeded to bury his first goal of the series.
The Stars had stifled the Blues on the man advantage in the series’ first six games and that didn’t change in the second period. Dallas surrendered one shot across two power plays as its forwards contained St. Louis’s blue line, improving its series penalty kill to 91.7%. Beyond that, though, Bishop was forced to fend off 17 shots in the period while the Stars offense waned and managed one shot.
Their offense continued to languish in the third period against the Blues’ hounding forecheck. St. Louis sent bodies, shots and everything else but goals by Bishop, who turned away another 13 shots. Dallas gained life in a seconds-long burst when center Roope Hintz rocketed through the neutral zone and sent a wraparound attempt trickling through the crease. The Blues evaded disaster and iced the puck, and they ended the period with nothing to show for a +24 shot differential and enough offensive zone possession time for two games.
Bishop and Jordan Binnington traded saves and scares, and the Stars finally mounted sustained pressure in overtime. The counterattack was short lived: Less than six seconds into double overtime, Robert Thomas hit the post and Maroon glided toward the crease to nail the rebound into the back of the net. Maroon joined Brock McGinn and Barclay Goodrow as players to score an overtime Game 7 goal this postseason.
Sitting with a league-worst 34 points on Jan. 2, the St. Louis Blues had already fired Mike Yeo in late November and looked like the NHL’s most disappointing and underachieving team. The talent that piloted the Blues to the Western Conference Final existed in large part then. Vladimir Tarasenko was over eight months removed from offseason shoulder surgery. Ryan O’Reilly was averaging nearly a point per game and Alex Pietrangelo still manned the blue line. But it wasn’t enough.
What changed? Craig Berube called on Binnington, the rookie who ignited into the league’s hottest goalie and everything else magically fell into place. Tarasenko finished the season with 46 points in his final 39 games, Brayden Schenn flourished alongside him, the defense was revitalized and the Blues finished with the second-most points of any team since the All-Star break. Now, they’re the first team in the Western Conference Final and await the winner of Wednesday night’s matchup between the Avalanche and Sharks.
The Stars, meanwhile, have the offseason to fortify their team and supplement their offense while their core stays intact and under contract. First-year head coach Jim Montgomery firmly rooted the team’s identity in staunch defensive play throughout the regular season. Yes, Rasmus Dahlin was the prized possession of the 2019 NHL draft, but Miro Heiskanen quietly became one of Dallas’s top defensemen and made the All-Star Game as a 19-year-old. The Finn’s emergence bolstered a blue line already comprised of John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and Roman Polak. Now, as Jason Spezza’s $7.5 million cap hit comes off the books, the Stars have a chance to improve on a team that already features Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Klingberg, Heiskanen and Bishop.