Stars down Blues in OT

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The earliest image Blues fans likely recall from Game 4 was Vladimir Tarasenko cherry-picking the entire Dallas Stars lineup for a breakaway goal to give the Blues an early lead.

In the spirit of their own personal satisfaction, those fans should do everything in their power to forget everything that happened thereafter. The Blues had a 3-1 series lead within their grasp, but let it slip away Thursday night at Scottrade Center. The Stars scored a pair of second period goals within a span of 69 seconds to steal the lead.

Though St. Louis was able to tie the game and send it to overtime, Dallas prevailed 3-2 on a Cody Eakin goal early in the extra frame. The series now shifts back to the Lone Star State knotted 2-2. For the Blues, it’s a tough reality to handle after their hot-start to the game.

“We didn’t bury them when we had the chance,” Hitchcock said. “The chances in the first period where we had all the odd-man rushes and the breakaways—we didn’t bury them and we let them off the mat with those two quick goals.”

The first period was nowhere near as close as the score indicated. The Blues dominated the opening twenty minutes with a significant zone time advantage and numerous quality scoring chances. They cashed in on only one of those chances, when Vladimir Tarasenko ripped one right through the wickets on Kari Lehtonen for a 1-0 lead. The Stars actually had six skaters on the ice—unbeknownst to the referees—yet still managed to leave Tarasenko all alone. He waited patiently for the outlet pass before entering the offensive zone and working his magic against Lehtonen.

The Blues had other opportunities to score in the first, but couldn’t convert. Had St. Louis secured a lead proportional to their performance in the first, perhaps they would have blown the doors off the Stars as they did in Game 3. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case Thursday night.

“It was one of those tight-knit games where you knew it would probably take overtime—It did take overtime,” David Backes said. “They get the chance and they’re able to make good on it. We’re all tied up here and we gotta put his behind us like we put the other ones behind us.”

Second periods have been a point of emphasis for the Blues—both positively and negatively—throughout these playoffs. After getting systematically bullied by the Blackhawks in second periods during the opening round series, the Blues appeared to have turned a corner against the Stars. Their intensity in second periods in this conference semifinal series had been peaking prior to Game 4.

Rather than build on their one-goal lead during the second, the Blues suffered a massive collapse early in the frame—and spent the remainder of the game trying to recover.

With the blink of an eye, the Blues lead evaporated and became a deficit. The first Stars goal was as gift-wrapped as they come; Joel Edmundson passed the puck to right to Dallas’ Radek Faksa instead of clearing it. Not advised: Faksa had a wide-open look at Brian Elliott, and slipped the puck between his legs to tie the score.

Edmundson was visibly disturbed by his mistake. The rest of the Blues likely had some irritation brooding, as well. Backes committed a tripping penalty moments later, upon which the Stars almost immediately capitalized as Patrick Sharp tipped in a power play goal to give Dallas the lead, 2-1.

“When they get opportunities, they’re dangerous,” Alex Pietrangelo said. “We know that and they feed off that. We can do a better job of managing the puck.”

With such a swift turn of the Blues’ fortunes, there’s no question they were reeling. But they bore down and managed to keep the Stars off the scoreboard long enough to find their legs—a necessary reset to keep the Blues competitive in the game.

Still in the second, Backes and Kris Russell were each sent off for slashing infractions. As the resulting 4-on-4 ensued, the Blues seemed to find their offensive mojo back. The Stars aided the process when Cody Eakin was hit with a slashing penalty with 33 seconds remaining in the 4-on-4. With the Blues controlling the flow of play as it was, a 4-on-3 seemed like a terrific opportunity for them to climb back into a tie.

Such prevailing wisdom proved true as Paul Stastny tipped in a Vladimir Tarasenko shot for the tying goal with just five seconds remaining in the 4-on-3.

Tied up going into the third period, both teams seemed to play with a fear of surrendering a fatal mistake. The Blues lacked a killer instinct to stake their claim on the game—and the series. As a result, the game went to overtime.

Anything can happen in a sudden death overtime, and in this case, the Blues let Cody Eakin sneak one in on them. Eakin got the puck just inside the post to win the game and even the series. With four games in the books, these Central division foes appear to be matched pretty evenly. They could be in store for a series that goes the distance.

“We always gotta be prepared for that,” Pietrangelo said of the possibility of a long, drawn-out series. “Game by game you gotta invest knowing that it can go wrong. Obviously would have been nice to go in there being up three one, but we’re in the situation we’re in, getting ready for noon on Saturday.”

The Blues will need to steal a road win on Saturday to avoid facing elimination in Game 6 at home on Monday. Tyler Seguin has been skating, and could rejoin the Stars lineup for Saturday’s game, which would make the Blues’ task that much more difficult.

But if St. Louis wants to extend their magic beyond round two, they’re going to have to dig deeper than they did in Game 4.

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