The Dallas vs. St. Louis second round Stanley Cup showdown will pit the two teams that battled down to the regular season wire to claim the Western Conference and Central Division crowns.
The Stars won that battle, but who will win the war now that Sir Stanley’s chalice is ultimately on the line?
“Everything needs to (ramp) up, said St. Louis and former Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team barely captured a seven game showdown against Chicago in the first round. “Dallas is the No. 1 scoring team in the league for a reason. They’ve got it right throughout their lineup. They’ve really got it on the backend. They’ve got great mobility back there. They’re dangerous if you let them get loose. To me, they’re a deep team that can score throughout their lineup and you’re going to have to pay attention.
“If you fall asleep, any line falls asleep, we’re going to be in a vulnerable position,” added Hitchcock. “(The Stars’) record in the Central was terrific, their record against playoff teams was even better. We’re going to have to be sharp. We’re going to have to be sharp in every aspect. One thing we can’t do is take penalties. We can’t put them on the power play the way their power play was the last two or three games. That’s not one we want to be looking down the barrel of very much.”
The last time Hitchcock faced Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff, the year was 1999. Hitchcock led the Stars to their only Stanley Cup over Ruff’s Buffalo Sabres.
“(The Blues) are obviously a physical team,” said Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski. “They’re going to play with a lot of structure, get above pucks. I guess that’s what you would look at if you were to describe their team, they’re going to play with a lot of structure, defend hard, try to get on the forecheck and create offense that way. “
Dallas finished with 109 points, the most in the Western Conference and second most in the NHL. They clinched the best record in the conference and the central Division, two points ahead of St. Louis, on the final night of the season.
In the five-game season series between the two, each team scored 10 goals, with the Blues winning four of the five games. However, three of those wins occurred as a result of the three-on-three overtime or the shootout, which don’t apply in the postseason.
“I don’t put too much stock in the regular-season matchups because the playoff is a whole different animal,” Stars forward Patrick Sharp said. “But playing against the Blues for a long time now (as a Chicago Blackhawk), I’m not surprised at the season that they’re having. They’re getting better every year, a tough team to play against and extremely tough in their building. Tough to score, tough to get to the net, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. But we’re excited where we are.”
Dallas boasts of two players as the NHL’s top 14 scorers. Captain Jamie Benn was second to Chicago’s Patrick Kane with 41 goals and 48 assists for 89 points (Kane had 106), and Tyler Seguin had 33 goals and 40 assists for 73 points. Seguin, however, will not be ready for the beginning of the series. Injured since March 17, Seguin dressed for just one game of the Stars’ six game victory over Minnesota, and it’s questionable at this point if he’ll be in game shape until the conference finals.
The Stars scored a league-high 267 goals in the regular season, 15 more than second-best Washington and 43 more than the Blues. But defense is a different matter for Dallas — the Stars allowed 230 goals, the most of any team that made the playoffs.
The Stars split their goalie time during the season and both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi had similar numbers. In the post-season thus far, Lehtonen played in Games 1, 2, 3 and 6, Niemi in 4 and 5 vs. the Wild.