(The Sports Xchange) - Lindy Ruff knew his Dallas Stars needed to do two things on Monday if they wanted to force a Game 7 in their second-round series against the St. Louis Blues instead of going home for the summer.
The coach knew his team needed a quick start, taking the home crowd out of the game. And he also knew Kari Lehtonen needed to have a good game in goal.
Consider both met.
As a result of Dallas’ 3-2 win, the series between the two teams that finished two points apart in the regular season will be decided in Game 7 on Wednesday in Dallas, with the winner advancing to the Western Conference final.
The Stars jumped on Brian Elliott for three goals on their first seven shots, including goals by Mattias Janmark and Vernon Fiddler, celebrating his 36th birthday, in a span of 20 seconds 5:13 into the game.
A power-play goal from Jason Spezza, his first goal of the series, later in the period increased the lead to 3-0 and chased Elliott -- who had allowed only 10 goals on 158 shots in the first five games -- from the net.
He was replaced by Jake Allen, making his first appearance of the playoffs.
“We took advantage of some early opportunities,” Ruff said. “We got the start we wanted.”
Lehtonen took over after that, stopping 35 of 37 shots by the Blues, who outshot the Stars 37-14 in the game. The shots in the second period were 14-5 in favor of the Blues and 14-2 in the third period, but Lehtonen did not falter.
The Blues did score once in each period, through Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund, but could not come up with the tying goal.
”Today he stood tall for us,“ Ruff said of Lehtonen. ”In the playoffs, goalies have to win you games sometimes. Just flip the script about how well Elliott played in the previous game and change the name to Lehtonen.
“Elliott made six or seven great saves in our building to keep the game where it was at.”
Lehtonen knew what to expect after the Blues fell behind so quickly, the first time they have trailed at the end of the first period in 13 playoff games.
”It changes the game a little bit,“ Lehtonen said. ”We knew they were going to take more risks. We didn’t have to score anymore, so we tried to play a more defensive game.
“I knew they were going to have a good push. It worked out today. I know it wasn’t pretty but it was good enough.”
The Blues did not place any blame for the poor start on Elliott, with coach Ken Hitchcock preferring to talk about the missed chances the team had on offense.
”We had five minutes of shock,“ Hitchcock said. ”Once we got through the shock we really played. I don’t like giving the other goalie credit for anything other than that he wears pads.
“We can shoot better, we can do some things better offensively. I‘m more concerned with missing the net. We had nine scoring chances in the second period but five of them missed the net. ... We could have made him make more saves.”
Hitchcock would not commit to putting Elliott back in goal for Game 7, saying he wanted to sleep on the decision, but Allen seemed convinced the Blues would turn back to Elliott.
”Els has been our rock in the playoffs,“ Allen said. ”We gave up too many quality chances to start the game.
“He will bounce back. He’s the ultimate pro. He will definitely be ready. He’s been the best player on our team in the playoffs. He will be ready to go.”
Elliott and the Blues have already won one Game 7 this year, having knocked off defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago in round one.
Whether that gives them an advantage on Wednesday remains to be seen.
”You can’t get off to a 3-0 deficit and expect to come back from that,“ said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. ”We played a great game in the second and third periods and that’s what we have to focus on right now is starting off the game like that.
“We have a chance to win on Wednesday night and that’s all it comes down to right now. We know what it takes. We obviously saw tonight what it takes to play winning hockey and that’s what we have to focus on.”
The Blues have not advanced to the Western Conference final since 2001 while the Stars have not reached that round since 2008.
Editing by Peter Rutherford