Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Falling Stars

After watching the Presidents' Trophy-winning team fall the night before, the second-best team in the NHL's regular season will be watching the rest of the playoffs tonight after a rather dismal performance. The St. Louis Blues have advanced to the Western Conference Final with a 6-1 defeat of the Dallas Stars, and they did it in rather convincing fashion in Game Seven. If NHL teams like to model themselves after the winning teams, St. Louis made a very clear statement tonight about how teams win in the playoffs.

Dallas almost flipped the script on winning in the playoffs by pushing the offence. Where they fell short, though, is that their goaltenders didn't provide them the key netminding moments they needed to continue to push the pace. This happened in the regular season at times, and it fell under a microscope in these playoffs.

I won't lie in saying that I love Dallas' approach to the regular season where the run-and-gun attitude was exciting and entertaining. Dallas could score in bunches when they had to simply by pushing the play and upping the tempo. In the playoffs, though, it becomes much harder to push the play when you're consistently being out-hit and and smothered in the offensive zone. St. Louis won the physical battles and made life impossible in their own end for the smooth-skating Stars.

The thing is that the Stars aren't far off from getting out of the Central Division, but they're always going to be second-class citizens to the Blues and the Blackhawks - and possibly the Predators - unless they show some mental and physical toughness in the playoffs. They need to lock down their own zone, and then they'll be far more dangerous.

Of course, having two netminders who looked like they were dodging the puck rather than stopping it in tonight's Game Seven doesn't help. Kari Lehtonen, whose playoff performances have been questioned since his days in Atlanta, was pulled again in this series after allowing a pile of goals, some of the rather stoppable nature. Antti Niemi didn't do much to solidify and/or take the starter's role either, so Jim Nill's plan to go with the all-Finnish puck-stopping duo fell a little flat.

The other thing that concerned me in watching Dallas is that they didn't have a response to Kyle Brodziak, Troy Brouwer, and Steve Ott for most of the series. Granted, they weren't splashing ink all over the scoresheet, but they constantly were pressured and checked by these three men. That kind of pressure and physicality takes its toll on players who, for the most part, were used to playing a more offensive-minded game. Wearing teams down in the playoffs is an intangible skill, and the men named in this paragraph are good at making the bumps and bruises hurt a little more with the way they play the game.

So why should fans of the Dallas Stars be excited despite watching their team fall out of the playoffs? There's a good core of players in Dallas with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and John Klingberg leading the way. Arguably, those four are as good as any four stars on one team in this league, and they'll be the men who lead the Stars to higher glory.

This Dallas team, while having stumbled, is a work in progress and should be considered as such until they can escape the Thunderdome that is the Central Division. There are excellent pieces in place to make that happen, but they need some support and it will be up to Jim Nill to find those support pieces after watching the St. Louis Blues expose the Achilles' heel of this team in its goaltending.

You have to wonder if Jack Campbell can be the next Marty Turco or Ed Belfour for the Stars. For as talented as Seguin, Benn, Spezza, and Klingberg are, you still need a solid goalie to win a Stanley Cup. Right now, Dallas doesn't have that luxury.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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