Not many NHL players get to celebrate their birthdays by playing playoff hockey. Even fewer score a game winning overtime goal to salvage a split on the road. Blues captain David Backes managed to complete that task on his 32nd birthday and send the Blues back home with a tie series.
Today's game was supposed to be a bounce back game for the Blues after coming out flat and uninspiring in Friday nights loss in Game 1. While the pace of play was much better than last game, the Blues still didn't control the game like the usually do. Dallas came out hitting, trying to undermine the Blues game before they could even get into it. That pressure led to the first goal of the game coming a lot sooner than anticipated.
As the Stars held the puck in the zone, a defensive miscue by Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz left the left side of the ice wide open and Alex Goligoski took full advantage. With Jamie Benn with control behind the net, Goligoski flew down the wing, slamming his stick on the ice for the puck and was rewarded with a pass right into his wheelhouse. Goligoski wired a shot into the top corner of the net for the lead.
But the resilient Blues responded quickly and it was thanks to a young stud and the guy I think needs to have a big series. Rpbby Fabbri and Patrik Berglund combined for a slick give and go as they entered the Stars zone. Berglund dropped the puck to Fabbri as he crossed the blue line, as Stephen Johns moved to swipe at the puck Fabbri saucered it up to Berglund who one-timed it as it was coming from behind him. The puck was on end so it knuckled on its way to the net and eluded Kari Lehtonen and just like that we were tied at 1.
The Blues didn't let up in their game after tying it up either. The forecheck became relentless with every line dumping the puck in, laying hits on the Stars and creating general havoc all over the ice. Just about three minutes after the Berglund goal the Blues created another opportunity with that strong forecheck.
Scottie Upshall would slap the puck around the boards and Troy Brouwer would give chase. After stripping the puck from the defender he would head to the back of the net. On his way there he looked up and saw a streaking Joel Edmundson filling the open wing cross ice. Brouwer would fire the puck between the Stars defense and Lehtonen perfectly to Edmundson who notched his first career playoff goal just over a month after his first ever career goal. Two quick strikes by the Blues and all of a sudden this game felt in control than I would have thought.
Oh we weren't done in this period though. After killing off a penalty to Jori Lehtera without allowing a shot the Blues would get their own power play when Antoine Roussel would trip Lehtera as his way of retaliating to the hits the Blues had been throwing around. As they should, the Blues made Roussel and the Stars pay.
Robby Fabbri, yeah that kid again(!!), would make a beautiful cross ice pass to Kevin Shattenkirk who would fire a shot at the net. Lehtonen would get his pad on it but kicked the rebound right into a prime spot of the ice. As he was already in the splits he had no way of recovering when Brouwer, in the right place again, slammed home the rebound. At this point the Blues had 5 shots on goal, so 3 goals on 5 shots, that's a pretty damn good shooting percentage in a playoff game or any game for that matter.
After not starting off too hot and giving up the first goal, this period ended in much better fashion than expected. The only problem was that we had that dreaded 3-1 two goal lead. Nothing could go wrong though right?
The second began with a change in net as Antti Niemi relieved Lehtonen with the hopes of sparking the Stars. Well it worked. The Blues came out flying and peppered the fresh netminder with some tough shots and continued to push the forecheck. Tarasenko's first breath of life in this series came when he stole the puck at center and drew a hooking call on Valeri Nichuskin.
The Blues power play was clicking yet again and seemed poised to put this game away a few times. The most impressive stop Niemi made was with Brouwer looking to add his second goal of the game. With Brouwer in the slot, the puck would come from behind the net and Brouwer would slap it toward the net. But Niemi got his pad level on the ice and kicked it out to keep the Stars in it. The crowd, which had been dead since the third Blues goal, roared to life and you could feel the energy shifting.
While no goals were scored in the period you could almost feel like the Stars were taking back parts of the game. The Blues were still hitting but they seemed more content to dump and change than with scoring. Oh they got some chances but nothing sustained and it allowed Niemi to settle into his game.
I was as nervous going into the third with a two goal lead as I was leading by one late against the Hawks. I don't know why but I was. Maybe it had to do with the Blues content to just dump the puck in and change every 20 seconds. Or maybe it was the fact that we didn't get shots on net in the third, 2 to be exact. Whatever it was, we were going to have to be lucky to win this game.
Mattias Janmark would pull the Stars within one when Cody Eakin sprung him for a breakaway with a very nice tip on a clearing pass. The change in direction put Colton Parayko in a bad position and Alex Pietrangelo could not catch up to the speedy Janmark. Brian Elliott tried to pokecheck the puck but just before his stick reached the puck Janmark put it past him.
Ok it was just one goal and the Blues were playing good defense and not allowing much in their zone. Than John Klingberg almost killed Brian Elliott. Off the face-off Klingberg would rip a shot from the point that caught Elliott square in the mask, denting the cage and putting the goalie on his back. Ray Barile rushed out to check the rock of the Blues and everyone in St. Louis held their breath. Showing balls of steel, Elliott bounced back up, put his contact back in and grabbed a new mask and settled back into the net. Just another testament to this team being different than in years past, our goalie would have been out all playoffs with a shattered orbital bone.
Not sure if that rattled the Blues or not but Dallas started to put tons of pressure on the Blues and started shooting high on Elliott. To his credit Elliott continued to push aside shot after shot but the levee was starting to leak. It broke with a lost face-off in the defensive zone and no one covering Jamie Benn.
Cody Eakin would win the draw from Paul Stastny and the puck went to Kris Russell. Russell would fire the puck to the net and it would bounce of Eakin right to the feet of a wide open Benn. Elliott for some reason was on his belly and had no chance to stop the puck. But it begs the question, why was NO ONE on Benn in the defensive zone with a one goal lead? Once again a two goal lead had vanished and the Blues felt like they were on the ropes yet again.
The Stars kept coming as the period wound down, trying to get that winner before the horn sounded but they could not. Their best chance was an Ales Hemksy wrap around attempt but the post was our best friend yet again. Game 2 would go to overtime.
Not sure what was said in the locker room but once again the Blues came out quick. Tarasenko would get loose again and try and slip past Klingberg on Niemi but the Russian tank was brought down before getting a shot off, drawing a penalty. The Blues couldn't do much with the gift of an overtime power play and multiple times gave the Stars a chance to get in shorthanded. Neither team really got much going though and the penalty ended with a whimper.
Each team would get a good look about a quarter of the way through the extra time with the Stars breaking out after Fabbri muffed a pass leading to an eventual 4 on 2. The shot would go high and it would turn around to a 2 on 1 for the Blues but the pass to Alex Steen was just off and he couldn't get a shot off.
Dallas would break out of their zone with a 3 on 1 halfway into the OT but Roussel would make another bonehead play when he picked Jay Bouwmeester at the blue line resulting in an interference penalty. The crowd was livid but it was a textbook call and one that would cost the Stars the game.
On the ensuing face-off the Blues would gain possession and work the puck around. Steen would wide up at the point for a shot that was saved by Niemi. Unfortunately for him it kicked right to David Backes stick and he whipped it into the net. It was a textbook power play goal from Backes and it was just what this team needed.
Now we head back home with a 1-1 series and a raucous home crowd to look forward too. Not a pretty win but a needed win. Game 3 is Tuesday night at 8:30 CT.
#3 - Troy Brouwer: Another timely goal and assist. Shows why he was brought in to this team.
#2 - Jamie Benn: Set up Goligoski goal and his tying goal was exactly what he brings to this team
#1 - David Backes: Birthday Boy gets the game winner