Attention ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages.... put down your Patty Kane meme pics, your Jonny Toews jokes, and sober up for just a little while. Tonight, the Blues get to play in something that they haven't enjoyed in quite some time - the second round. As fun as that is for us, we're not even halfway through the postseason yet. The simple fact that the Blues open on the road should be the splash of cold water that brings us to reality. The Dallas Stars didn't win the West for nothing. As our guest on Beyond Checkerdome put it "You don't finish with the best record in the conference to start being scared of teams". And he's right. You can be as confident in the Blues as you want, but that needs to come with a healthy amount of respect as well.
There are several previews out there already that cover the regular season series, their first round performances, and how each team compares segment by segment. Unless you live in a hole in the ground, you've seen them already. When it comes to predictions, the vast majority pick the Blues. Predictably, the staff of the St Louis Post Dispatch all gave the nod to the hometown boys (link), but surprisingly every single one of the writers for the Dallas Morning News also picked the Blues to win (link). In a similar fashion, many national pundits and bloggers are picking the Blues to take this round as well.
The consensus boils down to this: St Louis has a huge advantage in goal, a slight advantage in defense, and the Stars have the advantage in the forward corps. The Stars won't win many 1-0 games, but they can score in bunches to overcome the weaknesses in their own end. However, their offensive bite is missing one primary tooth. Tyler Seguin is still out, nursing an Achilles injury. He hasn't resumed skating yet, so he's definitely out the first two games and possibly more. His absence has been overcome by a fantastic effort by Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza . Those two lead the Stars in points (10 and 9 respectively) and will be carrying the load this time as well. Secondary scoring was provided by the Patricks: Eaves and Sharp with a combined 5 goals. All told, 11 different players scored for Dallas.
The Blues won the season series against the Stars with a record of 4-1-0, although any Dallas fan would be quick to reply that 3 of those Blues wins were either OT or shootout wins. This is evidence that this series is going to be a lot closer than those predictions would indicate. Both teams have shown the ability to rise to the occasion. However, I'd like to point out that each of those games were with the Blues missing key pieces. That is not the case now. Coach Hitch confirmed on Wednesday that everyone is healthy and will be available for Game 1.
For me, this is an important distinction. While the Stars are missing a major cog in their scoring machine, this is a fully armed and operational Blues Battle Station. Where the season series might make you think the teams are very evenly matched, none of those games featured THIS version of the St Louis Blues. This team is the one that held Artemi Panarin to 2 goals, Patrick Kane to 1 goal (an OT winner that was assisted by the Blues' D and fatigue), and Jonathan Toews to none at all. Nothing is an absolute, of course, but if the Blues can stifle the remaining Dallas big guns in a similar way, we got this. The evenness of this matchup starts to look a little hollow.
If you want to look at the numbers, a good rundown is available HERE. Special Teams will also be a factor in this matchup. It won't take long for these teams to get fucking hostile with each other, but there needs to be a measure of discipline as well. Our advantages will do us no good if we're constantly shorthanded. Where the Blues feature Steve Ott, the Stars come back with Antoine Roussel and his hijinks.
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Final Verse: The game is scheduled for 7:00 PM St Louis time, but the puck probably won't drop for 15 or 20 minutes after that. The GDT will drop shortly beforehand, however. Please drop by and join us. The TV broadcast will be on NBC Sports Network, and the radio call will be on Y98 FM (KYKY 98.1). Until that time, get yourself revved up and ready for the weekend. Round 2 begins today.