Blues decimate Stars in Game 3

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There’s no question that the St. Louis Blues slaying of the Chicago Blackhawks in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a momentous occasion for the team and its long-suffering fanbase. It was a far more significant series victory than it would have been were it against any other franchise. Beating Chicago means something to the Blues.

As the hysteria from eliminating the Hawks lulled and morphed into anticipation for the Western Conference semifinal series against the Dallas Stars, the Blues had to prove they were capable of sustained success. The Blackhawks series was special, but with the team the Blues have in 2016, it’s hard to feel like merely advancing through one playoff round could be considered a successful campaign overall.

The Blues took the first step in proving their staying power when they secured a split of the first two games in the series on the road in Dallas. Back home in front of a raucous crowd at Scottrade Center, the Blues took another crucial step as they blew the doors off the Dallas Stars 6-1 in Game 3 to stake out a 2-1 lead in the series.

This game was different for St. Louis in that after the Blues built a two-goal lead, instead of faltering late as they have in recent games, they kept the pressure on—and continued to score goals.

“A good sign tonight. We didn’t take our foot off the gas and kept playing the right way for a full sixty minutes,” David Backes said. “That’s what we’re looking for and we got it. But again, it’s just one game.”

It would have been difficult to imagine the St. Louis would coast to a five-goal victory when Colton Sceviour put the Stars on the board early in the first period. The Stars came out flying, playing disruptive hockey. It looked like the Blues were in for a dogfight.

But the Blues’ modus operandi of responding quickly to adversity was present once again. Troy Brouwer, Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen concocted a nifty passing sequence resulting in an equalizing goal 57 seconds after Sceviour’s. Later in the first, Backes scored the go-ahead goal off a brilliant redirect of a Kevin Shattenkirk shot.

A key moment in the game came with 1:19 left in the first period when a Jason Demers shot hit the crossbar and was initially signaled a goal by a lit lamp. However, it was clear to most in the arena that the puck was never close to crossing the line. The review correctly ruled as such, and the Blues maintained a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

“The game changed on the non-goal,” Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We could have gone in tied and we ended up going in up and that was a big swing in the momentum of the game. Instead of being discouraged I thought we were really in a different mental frame.

“That crossbar gave a us different attitude coming out for the second period.”

As Hitchcock eluded to, the Blues came out like gangbusters in the second. First, Brouwer scored a dazzling goal that caused Kris Russell to wipe out as he glided by on his way to notching one in the back of the net. The return for St. Louis in the T.J. Oshie trade, Brouwer has been everything the Blues could have hoped for and then some. 

“He’s got great hockey sense and an extremely quick release on his shot,” Steen said. “He’s a little shifty too, he made a nice move on his goal. Him, ‘Stast’ and I have been gelling pretty good, I think. Been playing well and it was nice to see him get that one.”

After the Brouwer goal, Lindy Ruff continued his series-long game of musical goalies, as Kari Lehtonen tapped in for Antti Niemi.

It didn’t matter who was in net for the Stars, the Blues planned to score on him. Tarasenko was next in line, and joined in on the St. Louis barrage with a missile pin-balled off the skate of Alex Goligoski for a second period goal to extend the lead to 4-1. Tarasenko said he was trying to get the puck to Patrik Berglund, but the lucky bounce off Goligoski earned him the goal. Tarasenko also tallied a pair of assists in the win.

Debating Tarasenko’s minutes was all the rage in the first round series against the Blackhawks. After the Blues leading scorer in the regular season was held without a point through two games against the Stars, some folks began wondering whether the minutes he was playing were very impactful.

As a PSA, if you’re one of those who needs to see points or goals from 91 to comprehend his impact, hopefully you DVR’d Game 3. Tarasenko was everywhere, again proving his value to the Blues attack.

The third period consisted largely of the Blues holding down their gargantuan lead, but the fans who stuck around until the end were treated to some late fireworks. Perhaps venting some frustration, Curtis McKenzie decided to mix it up with Ryan Reaves, breaking apart from a mini-scrum on the ice.

It wasn’t his best idea, as Reaves quickly and unsurprisingly pummeled him into submission. Reaves blew a kiss to the Stars bench as he skated off to serve his penalty for fighting, his demeanor telling all you needed to know regarding who won the fight.

Backes then scored his second goal to put a cherry on top of Game 3. Along with Backes, Steen made an impact on the stat sheet with two goals. Both guys have something in common—they don’t care who’s scoring the goals. They’re focused entirely on the grander scheme.

“It’s nice to chip in (offensively), but we’ve had that mentality as a group,” Steen said. “We have our roles here going into the playoffs. and the number one thing is getting wins.”

That winning attitude is one of the reasons this Blues team is different from past iterations. Ken Hitchcock has a roster of players who are in it for the right reasons.

“At this time of year, you can’t have enough of those guys” Hitchcock said. “I’ve always said this: Playoffs are for veteran players. They are for guys like (Brouwer), and Steen and Backes. This is their time and you can see it in their disposition and the way they raise their level when the game goes up.”

Because of their veteran leadership leading the charge of the prevailing team-first mindset, the Blues may be on the cusp of something truly special this postseason. Not hey-we-made-it-through-the-first-round special, either.

These Blues are starting to look like they might be Stanley Cup special.

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