The St. Louis Blues have been playing desperate hockey all of 2019 — since being in last place at the start of January and making an incredible comeback to make the playoffs.
Now they are trailing in the post-season for the first time, down 3-2 in their second-round series against the Dallas Stars, and have to win consecutive games to advance to the Western Conference final.
“It’s no different, all year, ever since Jan. 1 we’ve had to climb and we’ve faced adversity,” Blues centre Brayden Schenn said.
“Win or you go home. Simple as that,” centre Jaden Schwartz said. “The desperation level needs to be higher than it’s ever been.”
Actually, it would be win and go home for a chance to advance.
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But St. Louis first has to win Game 6 in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. The Stars took the series lead with their 2-1 road win Friday night. They will now try to repeat what they did in the opening round, when they won three games in a row to close out that series with a Game 6 win at home.
“The series becomes more determined and we’ve become more determined as a group,” said Dallas veteran centre Jason Spezza, who has goals in consecutive games. “You sense the importance of the games, and we’ve made good adjustments … It’s just a matter of staying in the present.”
Before their Game 6 clincher in the first round against Nashville on April 22, the Stars hadn’t won a playoff series on home ice since 2008 — the last time they made it to the Western Conference final.
John Klingberg scored the game-winner 17 minutes into overtime to close out the Predators, in a game the defenceman said Stars players treated like a Game 7.
While that might not necessarily be the approach of their rookie NHL coach, Jim Montgomery knows that clincher could benefit them now.
“We go into every game trying to have a great start and worry about staying in the moment in that game,” he said Saturday. “I think the experience of having that Game 6 … I think that’s going to help us be better for (Sunday).”
Except for a bad flub when trying to clear a puck in the third period, a mistake Schwartz quickly converted into a goal, Stars goalie Ben Bishop was spectacular again in Game 5 against the Blues. The Vezina Trophy finalist stopped 38 shots and his .936 save percentage this post-season is a tick better than his franchise-record .934 save percentage in the regular season.
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“He’s been our brick wall back there,” Montgomery said, making it clear that the six-foot-seven goaltender was the difference in taking the series lead.
“I didn’t think we were on top of our game, and we’re going to have to be better if we’re going to have success on Sunday,” the coach said. “We have to be better as a team. We can’t rely on Bish as much as we did (in Game 5).”
The Blues are 4-1 on the road this post-season, winning their first four away from home before losing Game 4 on Wednesday in Dallas.
With Bishop as the last line of defence, the Stars are 29-of-31 on penalty kills this post-season. Nashville failed to get a goal on any of its 15 power plays, and St. Louis is only 2-of-16.
“The PK’s been doing well,” Bishop said. “We know they’re probably going to have their best game the next one so we’ve got to be ready and guys are doing what it takes, sacrificing, blocked shots and good communication. We’ve just got to continue with it.”
The Stars overcame an early 1-0 deficit to win Game 4, when they had four consecutive goals. It’s the only game between the two teams this season — four in the regular season, and five in the playoffs — there has been a lead change.
But the Blues have outshot Dallas 27-10 in the third period combined the last two games, and have a goal in each of those periods.
“Our last two third periods have been good,” Schenn said. “Obviously we’re playing from behind and we’re pushing hard, but we’ve got to bring that mentality into the first period the next game.”