On a rain-soaked Friday night in Big D, the Dallas Stars began the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on the right note with a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
The visitors carried the play in the early going, controlling the puck and dominating at the faceoff dot. The Blues’ control of the game lasted about nine minutes; that’s how long it took the Stars to adjust to their new opponent. For the next 35 minutes or so, Dallas neutralized the St. Louis attack with strong positional play and utilized crisp, tape-to-tape puck movement to take the fight to the Blues.
Near the midpoint of the second period, Stars winger Antoine Roussel, America’s [current] favorite fighting Frenchman, did not throw away his shot; rather, he flicked a rebound from a Radek Faksa wrister past a sprawling Brian Elliott for the game’s first score. (Yes, there were two Hamilton references in that sentence. You’re welcome.) The goal looked something like this:
Dallas held the lead until the 11:32 mark of the third period, when one ugly shift and failed clearing attempt resulted in a Kevin Shattenkirk point shot slipping past a partially-screened Kari Lehtonen. The goal swung the momentum in St. Louis’ favor, and they pressed the attack over the next several shifts.
Lehtonen loomed large in the Dallas crease, however, and Radek Faksa untied the game just under four minutes later. The young center crashed the net to bury the puck, which was left like flotsam in Ales Hemsky’s wake following the Czech winger’s drive to the net:
Faksa’s goal was the difference-maker Friday night, putting the Stars’ top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft into the franchise record book:
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) April 30, 2016
Friday night’s Stars victory was quite impressive, perhaps unexpectedly so. It’s worth noting, however, that the win was merely the first step along what promises to be a rocky road against the Blues. But it was a good first step.
The Stars’ Third Line: The Blues shut down Jamie Benn’s line. They shut down Jason Spezza’s, too. Where the Roussel-Faksa-Hemsky trio was concerned, however, St. Louis had no answer. When Lindy Ruff put his third line on the ice to start the game, he probably had no idea they would finish it, too. Two goals for, zero against, in a 2-1 game. You can’t ask for more than that.
The Goalies: Both netminders were outstanding Friday night. Elliott stopped 40 of 42 shots for the Blues, while Lehtonen saved 31 of 32 for the Stars. That’s a combined save percentage of .959, folks. Both goalies gave their respective teams every opportunity to win.
The Fans: The atmosphere in the American Airlines Center is rather laid-back during the regular season (unless the Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings come to town). In the first round of the playoffs, Stars fans brought the noise. In Game 1 against St. Louis, they kicked it up a notch. The fans in Big D are starting to get the hang of playoff hockey.
Steve Ott in a Blues Sweater: This is just wrong. Steve Ott was beloved by Stars fans during his time here, and to see him return wearing the Bluenote is even more disconcerting than seeing Ken Hitchcock behind the St. Louis bench. Ott’s kerfuffle with Travis Moen early in the third period resulted in mutual roughing minors and served notice that, though Ott is still a jerk, he’s no longer our jerk. Welcome back, Otter…I guess.
Patrick Eaves’ Injury: Shortly after the Ott-Moen incident, Patrick Eaves got in the way of a Stephen Johns blast from the point. In obvious pain, he slowly made his way off the ice and did not return. Saturday morning, Eaves was on crutches and is considered day-to-day. The oft-injured winger scored two of Dallas’ four power play goals in the first round of the playoffs, so his absence could be problematic.