Blues, Stars meet again in Game 7 for spot in West finals
By SCHUYLER DIXON AP Sports Writer
The Blues and Stars are set for Game 7 in a second-round series again, three years after St. Louis dominated a winner-take-all matchup in Dallas for a spot in the Western Conference finals.
Deja vu or ancient history?
Maybe a little of both for Alex Pietrangelo and company, who won 6-1 after going up 3-0 in the first period in 2016 to clinch the only trip to the West finals for either franchise in the past decade.
“A lot of different players on these teams, different makeup, different coaches,” Pietrangelo said after a 4-1 win in Dallas that forced Tuesday night’s deciding game . “Some of this helps because we’ve been through a few of these before. We’ve got some guys that are ready, who have been through this.”
The biggest difference is the site: St. Louis, after the Blues recovered from having the NHL’s fewest points on Jan. 2 and are already the only team to win a playoff series after carrying that lowly distinction at the start of a calendar year. The Blues finished third in the Central Division, with the Stars six points behind in the first wild-card spot.
“Best out of one,” said forward Mats Zuccarello, a trade deadline addition for Dallas this season. “We’ve got to be excited about it. It’s going to be fun. It’s always fun to play Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
It won’t be deja vu for Stars coach Jim Montgomery, a rookie making the rare jump from the college coaching ranks and two years removed from winning an NCAA title at the University of Denver.
“When I was a little kid, every time I played street hockey or I played in my basement with my cousin, it was always Game 7 every time,” Montgomery said. “I’m excited.”
Montgomery said goaltender Ben Bishop was fine after taking a puck to the shoulder on a hard shot from Colton Parayko that sent the goalie sprawling to the ice as Alexander Steen gathered the long carom and had his shot redirected into the net by Jaden Schwartz over the still-prone Bishop.
The decisive sequence helped turn a one-goal lead into a three-goal cushion with less than 12 minutes left when Sammy Blais scored on a breakaway 33 seconds later. Montgomery pulled Bishop after the Blais goal, giving Anton Khodobin his first action of the postseason. But the coach left little doubt Bishop would be back in net.
“We have confidence in both our goalies,” defenseman John Klingberg said.
Tyler Seguin leads the Stars with 11 points in the playoffs (four goals, seven assists) after signing a $78.8 million, eight-year contract extension before the season. Three years ago, the high-scoring forward missed all but one of Dallas’ 13 playoff games because of Achilles tendon and calf issues. He missed the entire St. Louis series.
The biggest Dallas contributors in the 2016 playoffs were captain Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, who was a healthy scratch late in the regular season and early in the playoffs before tallying three goals against the Blues.
Klingberg was the emerging star for Dallas at the blue line three years ago, a distinction that now belongs to 19-year-old Miro Heiskanen. Alexander Radulov and Zuccarello are the most productive veterans who weren’t with the Stars the last time they saw the Blues in the playoffs.
Schwartz, who entered the day tied for second in the NHL with eight goals this postseason, and Pietrangelo were double-digit playoff scorers then for the Blues, and again now. Vladimir Tarasenko is probably the most notable holdover, with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron among the key veterans who were elsewhere in 2016.
Parayko was a rookie back then along with Robby Fabbri, who led first-year players in the 2016 playoffs with 15 points, tying Tarasenko for the team lead. Fabbri has struggled with knee injuries since and been in and out of the lineup this postseason.
Bishop was last in the playoffs three years ago — with Tampa Bay. The Blues have a rookie goalie in Jordan Binnington, who has been a big part of the team’s turnaround.
Both goalies have been better on the road than at home in the playoffs, and both teams have more road wins than home victories in the postseason. So the biggest difference from three years — the venue change — doesn’t figure to matter much.
“Nothing’s a gimme,” said Blues coach Craig Berube, who replaced the fired Mike Yeo in November after a rough start. “It doesn’t matter if they had success or not there already. Game 7s are Game 7s. You have to put it all on the line and be ready to go. We will be.”
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