The Blues evened their series in Dallas with a 4-3 overtime win Sunday, taking home ice advantage away from a Stars team who rallied from a 3-1 deficit capped by a late goal from Jamie Benn.
But David Backes made a great play in overtime and the Blues come home with a chance to take a stranglehold here in the second round. There was some good, some bad and even a little ugly from this one, but most of it good…
Good: We’ve spent three years complaining about the veteran core of the Blues not stepping up at playoff time. This year has provided newfound clutch ability in David Backes (10 seasons with the Blues), Alexander Steen (8), Patrik Berglund (8) and Alex Pietrangelo (8).
In nine games, Backes has already set his career playoff high with six points on three goals and three assists, with two of the goals being overtime winners. Steen has a goal and three assists, and has been a key part of the Blues stellar playoff penalty killing unit.
Berglund has a couple of key goals and has defended the opponents’ big stars in great fashion, leading the team in the +/- category at +5 so far.
Pietrangelo has arguably been the Blues best overall player, steadying the Blues defense, turning in six points, and playing nearly thirty minutes per game.
A bad playoff history has so far been turned around by the veteran core, which has been reduced with the departures of Barrett Jackman and T.J. Oshie. The vets have provided three of the five Blues game-winning goals, with Backes getting two and Steen one.
Good: We mentioned at the playoffs’ outset how the Blues needed balanced scoring, and so far they’ve gotten it. In nine games, Kevin Shattenkirk, Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz have all scored seven points, while Backes, Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko have each scored six. Five more players have four points each.
By comparison, last year against Minnesota in six games, Shattenkirk had eight points, Tarasenko had seven, and two players each had four. Last year, six players scored goals for the Blues and Tarasenko had six of the team’s fourteen. So far this year, thirteen different Blues have lit the lamp, and Tarasenko has four of the 24 scored.
Good: Another pre-playoff key was defensive scoring. Blues defensemen didn’t score a single goal in 2015’s six-game playoff exit, but four of the Blues’ seven defensemen that have played in this year’s postseason (Joel Edmundson, Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko) have scored and accounted for six (25 percent) of the Blues’ goals so far. Edmundson joined this groups with Sunday’s tally.
Bad: I got several tweets and texts wondering if Tarasenko might be hurt. After putting up twenty shots for three goals in games 2-5 of the Blackhawks series, he’s had only ten shots for one goal in his last four games. I don’t think he’s hurt, but I do think he’s being checked hard. He has to battle through the hard play of the opposition to get opportunities.
He also needs to handle the defensive end. He was out of position on Dallas’ first goal in game two. The best player needs to be the best player…like Jamie Benn of Dallas…and Tarasenko has yet to be that in this series.
Bad: The Blues are part of a weird stat. They were outshot 34-25. Among remaining playoff teams, they are second in faceoff percentage, so they’re getting possession of the puck, but they’ve allowed the second highest average of shots at 36.9 per game. You would think that with all that possession that they would be able to take more shots, but they’re just seventh of eight remaining playoff teams in shots per game.
What makes this particularly weird is that the Islanders LEAD remaining teams in faceoff percentage AND shots allowed per game. It’s incongruous that that would be the case.
Good: The Blues got their physical mojo back, outhitting the Stars 42-23. Clearly that’s the style they need to win, and hopefully they bring that back to Scottrade Center for games three and four.
Bad: A club built on being physical and holding a lead has squandered two goal advantages in three of their last four games, the last two against Chicago and again on Sunday. If there’s one thing I’m sure Ken Hitchcock wants to adjust before game three, it’s the way his team protects a lead. Sure, the other team is trying, but two goal leads are precious. The Blues need to keep their pedal to the metal after they get the lead.
Ugly: Goalie Brian Elliott took a hard shot from Jason Spezza off the mask in the third period that appeared to KO him and broke his mask, but he stayed in to make some spectacular saves. Hitchcock admitted that Elliott was dazed.
Even though he’s allowed some goals of late, and even though Jake Allen is a more than suitable goalie, Elliott is the Blues’ most indispensable player.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t have concussion issues that would prevent him from playing in game three.
Good or bad, take your pick: The league announced shortly after the game that Tuesday night’s contest will start at 8:30 p.m. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding these starts, but I say let’s embrace it. Use the time to get mentally prepared and fill the building for the opening faceoff. I haven’t gotten tired at the rink for any of the 8:30 starts so far, and I get off work at 7:00 so I love them.