As they say in Texas, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s … uh, rump every day.
The St. Louis Blues — who spent the first five games of the Western Conference semifinal secure in their rock-solid goalie while the Dallas Stars woke up each morning wondering whether either of theirs could string together 60 decent minutes — found out Monday night how the other half lives.
The Stars lit up Brian Elliott for goals 20 seconds apart and, by the time they’d sent seven his way, had put three behind the Blues’ keeper.
Three was enough. Just enough.
Dallas held on by its fingernails for a 3-2 win to send the series back to Big D for Game 7 on Wednesday.
The 19,808 fans at Scottrade Center were traumatized into silence by the first-period nightmare.
Out came the hook after only 16:49 and, just as Stars coach Lindy Ruff had to do in Games 2 and 3, Ken Hitchcock was forced to go to the bullpen for his backup, Jake Allen.
Even if removing Elliott was more of a kick in the butt to his team than a condemnation of his goalie, the move paid off with an enormous push-back by the Blues in the final 40 minutes, when they overwhelmed the Stars with a relentless forecheck-and-cycle game.
In fact, the Blues may well have played as close to perfect hockey for those two periods as anyone has in these playoffs. They just couldn’t get out of that early hole.
It all began to unravel for St. Louis when a pass by defenceman Colton Parayko struck the skate of Jason Spezza and ended up on the stick of Stars’ Valeri Nichushkin, who hit Mattias Janmark with a breakaway pass. Janmark beat Elliott’s glove hand, 4:53 into the game.
Twenty seconds later, fourth-line winger Colton Sceviour circled the net and muscled the puck out front for a tip-in by centre Vern Fiddler, who turned 36 Monday and had his parents in from Edmonton, watching him do it.
Three shots, two goals, 5:13 of elapsed time.
Then, with just over three minutes left in the period, Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester caught an edge and fell down, leaving the middle of the ice open for Spezza, who made a nifty toe-drag and snapped a shot over Elliott’s glove.
That landed Elliott on the bench, and from that point on, the ice tilted in the other direction.
“They had us on our heels for 50 minutes of the game pretty much. Kari was awesome,” said defenceman Alex Goligoski.“When someone learns how to defend a team charging like that, let me know.”
At one point, the Blues had the puck on a string for two whole shifts and the Stars’ tongues were hanging out. The goal was inevitable, and it finally came 7:29 into the second, from Alex Steen, wide open at the side of the net to pot Robert Bortuzzo’s rebound.
But the Blues couldn’t push another one past Lehtonen, who fought the puck early but made a series of important saves to get Dallas to the second intermission, still up by two.
The rest didn’t do the Stars much good, though. They didn’t sit back in the third period — Dallas couldn’t get the puck off St. Louis, who pounded and clawed and hacked and owned all the play, all the way to the final buzzer.
They closed the gap to one just under nine minutes into the third, Patrik Berglund finishing off a three-way pass play from David Backes to Jori Lehtera, who made a between-the-legs backpass to a wide open Berglund — and from there to the finish line was pure pandemonium.
Lehtonen, roundly mocked when he was pulled in Game 2, was brilliant under the St. Louis onslaught, and especially when Allen came out for a sixth skater in the final two minutes.
With 30 seconds left, the big Finn held the post to deny several whacks at the puck by Backes and a few ticks later made a sensational left pad save on wide-open Jaden Schwartz.
“It was exciting,” said Lehtonen. “I just try to stay as relaxed as I can and just follow the puck and not try to play it any other way than I’ve done last 59 and a half minutes. It’s easy to say, but today it worked.”
You wouldn’t have bet a nickel on the Stars’ chances had it gone to overtime.
How Dallas held on is an imponderable that will haunt the Blues if somehow they go on to lose this series.
So thoroughly outplayed were the Stars, the Blues might well be echoing what Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said after his team lost Game 5.
“Give us those same opportunities, I would take every play in that game and do it again,” Ruff said at Monday morning’s skate. “And I think we’d have a good result.”
Well, the Stars didn’t play that game — the Blues did, outshooting them 37-14 — but the visitors got the result anyway.
Different day, different dog’s hind end.
Cam Cole Post Media
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