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St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars Second Round Preview

Editor’s Note: Staff Writer Connor Ferguson contributes the Dallas Stars perspective.

This is the first time the two clubs have met in the playoffs since 2001 when Ken Hitchcock’s Dallas Stars swept the Blues in the second round. Before that, they met in 1999 and Dallas was victorious over St. Louis in six games and also again in 1994 (DAL swept STL).

The season series between them this year was much closer than records may indicate as the Blues went 4-1 against Dallas, but three of those wins came in a overtime/shootout. A number of those games were the second half of back-to-backs for the Stars as well.

St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars Second Round Preview

The past is thrown out the window. What matters now is Game 1, which starts tonight at 8:00 P.M. ET. Here’s three quick storylines to watch for each team as the series wages on.

St. Louis Blues:

Depth Scoring Up Front

12 different Blues players scored at least a goal in the first round against Chicago, which was the most for a team in that same stretch. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera have proven to be lethal if they gain open ice, but they’re not the only ones that provided the offense.

The second line of Troy Brouwer-Paul Stastny-Robby Fabbri which was dominating down the stretch in the regular season was reunited once again in the final game versus the Blackhawks. They combined for Brouwer’s GWG in the third period and looked in-sync as ever. Hitchcock stresses a four-line rotation which heavily involves the fourth line of Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and Steve Ott. They’re a human wrecking ball of sorts, employing a devastating forecheck and delivering hits whenever they get the opportunity.

They were held off the ice in the late stages of Game 7 due to Chicago double-shifting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but expect them to have a larger role in the matchup with Dallas. The “third” line David Backes-Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund was mostly used in a defensive role due to Kane and Toews playing on the same line, but they’re going to find more chances to elevate their game offensively to contribute more on the scoresheet this time around.

Penalty Kill Must Improve

The Blues were the third-best penalty-killing team in the league throughout the regular season with an efficiency rate of 85.1%. Upshall and Brodziak combined for a terrific duo up front to take away space and clog the neutral zone.

However, the Blackhawks exposed St. Louis heavily on the man-advantage in the first round, scoring on six of their 19 opportunities (22.1%). Their PK units on the road were especially brutal, allowing four goals on nine chances for Chicago. How can they fix this? They need to go back to being more aggressive when a team sets up the cycle.

An aspect of their penalty-killing philosophy that made them so prominent in that regard was their ability to read plays and jump on loose pucks. Whenever the puck took a measly bounce off of an opponent’s stick, you had a Blues forward glued to the attacker. Versus Chicago, the Blues sat back and watched as Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith danced along the blue line to set up plays. Andrew Shaw was a pest in front of the net, but got great looks on the PP and cashed in on some of them.

St. Louis needs to be hungrier, winning the puck battles below the goal line and restricting the opposition from converting cross-ice feeds. John Klingberg is as impressive as any defenseman manning the point on a power play grouping and can make you pay in a heartbeat if you react too slowly. Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp possess dangerous skills that make your heart skip a beat every time they touch the cross the blue line.

In-game Adjustments from Hitch

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is one of the best at mixing up his lines when he recognizes a certain lineup isn’t performing up to his liking. This happened several times in the series against the Blues and tinkered with his lines to great success.

Hitchcock was out-coached in Game 6 after jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the first period only for it to vanish through his fingertips when Chicago pumped out five unanswered tallies. A similar outcome began to form in Game 7 when St. Louis pummeled the Hawks in the opening half of the first, obtaining a 2-0 lead. The visitors stormed back to tie the game and applied the pressure.

Whether it takes a good ol’fashioned speech from Hitch or players to swap places on the lines, he’ll need to find a way to motivate his players mentally to keep their emotions in check. Adversity is going to hit the Blues when facing Dallas; how they’ll respond will directly determine the outcome they’ll receive when it’s all said and done.

However, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dallas Stars

Lehtonen The Guy…For Now

Kari Lehtonen was nothing short of spectacular during the closing month of the regular season, starting 10 of the Stars final 12 games, and winning seven of them. The 32-year old out did co-starter Anti Niemi during the first round, only giving up one goal in his first two games of the series, opposed to the seven that Niemi gave up in his only two games of the series.

Of course, the Stars are facing a different opponent this week in division rival St. Louis, whom they played five times during the year. How did the goalies fair in those games? Lehtonen posted a shutout, went 1-0-1, and carried an impressive .955 save percentage against the Blues. Niemi however went 0-1-2, and had just a .899 percentage, and allowed 3.22 goals per game. The choice was easy for Lindy Ruff.

“I’m still the same guy, but I was able to be there in a winning series for the first time, and that’s important,” Lehtonen told Mark Stepneski of the Stars official website. “It’s a good experience, and it’s good that I have had it.”

Ruff’s Blender

Lindy Ruff used five, that’s right five, different lineups during the six-game series with the Wild, as he has all season. He has used countless line combinations throughout the season to make sure that no matter what happens, the team will be execute the game plan.

If the Stars win the series, this will be a talking point once more.

Dallas’ Stars

Not a single Stars player had more than five points during the first round of the playoffs, except Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, who combined for 19. Both used four goals, and a handful of assists to to help lead the Stars to that ever-so-special second round appearance.

These guys lead the team in the first round without another scorer in Tyler Seguin, and will have to do it again for the first half of the series. Seguin has been ruled out for games one and two of the series with his Leg/Achilles injury. The sooner he can come back, the better for Dallas’ chances of advancing to the third round of the playoffs.

Here’s the predictions from the LWOS Hockey Department:

Ben Kerr: Blues in 5
Mark Grainda: Blues in 6
Nicholas Di Giovanni: Blues in 5
Catherine Dore: Stars in 7
Zachary DeVine: Blues in 5
Markus Meyer: Blues in 6
Ken Hill: Blues in 6
Owen Durkin: Blues in 5
Nic Hendrickson: Blues in 6

Connor Ferguson: Stars in 6
Cristiano Simonetta: Blues in 6

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