"Is this real life...or is it just fantasy?" Throughout the final moments of Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Queen's song crept into my head. The Hawks were skating around in disbelief. Jonathan Toews doesn't compete in a playoff series and not score a goal. Corey Crawford couldn't hold the levees intact when Troy Brouwer came crashing through. The big brother was exiting the building and the resilient Blues were advancing forward. What?
It wasn't easy. The Blues make very little in life easy on their fans. They built leads and blew them. They took a lot of penalties. There were times where they skated around and didn't shoot because there was a phantom photographer taking pictures of their pretty puck handling skills. Kevin Shattenkirk forgot about defense and taking his man in the corner more than once. The Blues could have closed the series out in five games, but added two games just to jack up beer sales in St. Louis a little more. In the end, they won but it was only Step One. Dallas represents Step Two.
The Stars aren't going to be an easy opponent, even if they don't play much defense. The Stars averaged 3.2 goals per game in the regular season, good for 1st in the NHL. They owned the 4th best power play and were 10th in their penalty kill. Dallas was a little generous with their goals against(2.8 goals allowed per game) but they were far from worst. Jamie Benn is a physical specimen on the ice, a man with smooth hands and size that can break through any defense. Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp are decent wingmen who will assist the attack.
The one thing that hurts Dallas the availability of Tyler Seguin. The center had 33 goals and 40 assists in the regular season, and only played one game in the Minnesota series. His legs are injured party in this case, and that makes the inevitable question more of a threat than a mere concern. When he does return, what kind of player will he be? Will the real Seguin show up or just a mere image of himself? He hasn't been able to practice yet and this series will move fast. Can he get back and what effect does he have?
His absence leaves the Stars more vulnerable on offense, which is their strong suit. While the Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen may have some solid history against the Blues, but the man is nothing special. He nearly blew a big Stars lead in the series clinching game against the Wild and let four goals through the pipes in his last two playoff games. When it comes to Lehtonen and Niemi, all one sees is decency and not ruthlessness in net. Neither can take over a game like Brian Elliott.
Where is the Blues mindset right now? I would have worried about the roof on the airplane flying over to Dallas this week because this team should be chomping at the bit to proceed forward. Players like David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo have endured enough playoff disappointment to make this sequel end differently. When Petro told Pierre McGuire about "we've dealt with a lot of setbacks and have waited a long time for this", he wasn't holding anything back. The Blues vets have afforded blood, sweat and tears for years in the Blue Note.
As I've constantly said, now is the time. This roster may shift in the next couple seasons. You may not be able to afford Backes, Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk after this season. The young slate of talent is showing that the future of this team is stable but the combination of veteran leadership and young guns may not be as swift in the coming seasons. Stay hungry should be the Blues motto.
Let's not worry about San Jose or Nashville just yet. Let's not worry about T.J. Oshie and the Washington Capitals. The Stars may seem like a weaker opponent than the Blackhawks but they shouldn't be taken for granted. While other Blues scribes are saying sweep or Blues in 5 games, I still think Benn takes over a game and the Stars make this a series to watch. There will be plenty of fireworks. During their December 26th matchup, Benn and Vladimir Tarasenko were 1-2 in goals scored. Each team has a lot of talent. The Blues are just deeper.
Don't let the "deeper" strength get to your head though. The Blues have been stronger on paper than other teams and found a way to lose to them. Look at last year and the Minnesota Wild, who didn't let the Stars pass by easily last week. Dallas finished atop the Western Conference so there are expectations here. They are just greater in St. Louis. This team wants to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970. Three years after their inception.
When I think of this 2015-16 Blues team, I think of Rocky Balboa's speech to his kid in the sixth film. His son thought the world should just be given to him and complained about how it was hard being Rocky's son and getting ahead. Rocky told him it's all about taking the hits and moving forward. The team with the biggest weapon doesn't win. The team with the biggest shield does.
It's not about having the best slap shot. It's not about having the best player(ahem, we do though). It's not about being great in October or March. It's about taking the punches and setbacks, and still showing true grit in April, May and June. The Blues haven't just dealt with an injury or two this season. They've dealt with a lot and they are still here.
My guess is this team shoves the Stars to the side in six games and moves onward. This is real life, folks. This is not fantasy...anymore.
Here's a song that may just have the best video of all time and a song that used to make me go berserk before a hockey game.
Can the Blues continue to sabotage the established order? Tune in tonight and find out.
Need another trusted opinion?
Check out Art Lippo's analysis of the series over at the stellar Roo Court STL factory.
Need good memories(Hat Tip to Jeff Wear) before the first Budweiser can is pierced? Check out these highlights.