Blues, Stars renew acquaintances after playoff clash
DALLAS — The last time the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars met on the ice was in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series last spring.
The Blues left American Airlines Center with a 6-1 victory and their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2001.
Dallas, which was the West's top seed, was left to ponder what could have been in its first trip to the second round since 2008.
These teams will renew their Central Division rivalry on Thursday night in downtown Dallas, but neither club is fixated on what happened just over six months ago. Instead, the Blues and Stars are focused on simply winning a game.
St. Louis (5-3-2) lost 5-0 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. Aside from a 6-4 win at Calgary on Oct. 22, the Blues have scored just five goals over the last 366:40, a sure sign they have deviated from their formula for recent success.
“We got to kind of stop the bleeding and get back to what works,” Blues forward Paul Stastny said after the loss in New York. “And we know what works for us, it's playing that grind game, that puck-possession game. When we do that, we're supporting each other, we're all playing together and when we're not, we're trying to make too many fancy plays and we get caught on our heels and put too much pressure on our goalies to bail us out.”
The Blues might be without captain Alex Pietrangelo, who sustained a lower-body injury against the Rangers. Pietrangelo did not skate on Wednesday morning but St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice that Pietrangelo would be further evaluated at morning skate on Thursday in Dallas.
St. Louis has lost three of its last four games and the Blues are 2-2-1 on the road this season.
Dallas (3-4-2), on the other hand, heads into this contest on a three-game winless streak (0-2-1) after a 3-2 overtime loss at Columbus on Tuesday. The Stars started their three-game road trip with a 4-1 loss at Winnipeg last Thursday followed by a 4-0 loss at Minnesota two days later.
But despite seeing his team winless since a 3-2 home win against Winnipeg last Tuesday, Stars coach Lindy Ruff feels Dallas has been playing well recently, final scores notwithstanding.
“I think we're looking at a game (against St. Louis) where they're going to be an extremely desperate team. They lost a big one last night (Tuesday) and we've lost three in a row now,” Ruff said. “I think our last two games are really close to where we need to be. I thought we beat ourselves at the end (against Columbus), we didn't do that last year.”
Ruff said any lingering ill will or bad taste from that seven-game playoff defeat to the Blues last spring is long gone.
Gritty Stars forward Antoine Roussel disagrees, however.
“Well, I'm pretty excited. It's been a long summer,” Roussel said. “They stuck it to us last year, we're still pretty (angry) about that. They are a good team. It's going to be a battle. We need those points more than they do.”
Ruff might be happy from a big-picture standpoint about how the Stars are playing right now, but there is one area he knows has to be a lot better: goaltending.
Dallas' veteran Finnish tandem of Kari Lehtonen (1-3-1, .900 save percentage, 2.65 GAA) and Antti Niemi (2-1-1, .893, 3.65) have both endured their share of struggles.
But Ruff knows that if the Stars are to again be a factor in the West, Lehtonen and Niemi both need to step up their game and start making big saves.
“We need our goaltending to be better. Those two guys know they need to be better,” Ruff said.