Fans and media may still be talking obsessively about the Blues’ series win over Chicago, and for good reason. But the Blues have long-since shifted their focus to Dallas, where the Stars await to begin round two.
“You have to,” said goaltender Brian Elliott. “(Last series) doesn’t really mean anything anymore. It’s all about this next game on the road and trying to play our Blues style of road hockey and get that first one out of the way.”
The Blues will open up the series in Dallas on Friday. Having won the Central Division and Western Conference, the Stars are in possession of home-ice advantage, initiating a rare series start on the road for the Blues. Of course, everything about Friday will seem rare since it will be the Blues’ first conference semi-final appearance since 2012. Before that, it had been eight seasons without a second-round berth for the Note. One would think that the rarity would also bring a high level of pressure. It does, but not nearly as much as the first round.
“When you have stress and pressure, it becomes a big burden,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “Once the stress is over, now you are just dealing with the pressure of winning hockey games. I think every player, every coach can deal with that, no problem.”
“You’re dealing with just hockey and that is where we are at now. It’s two really good teams going at it. They’re two teams that have had great seasons. We get a really tough opponent, probably even tougher than the one we just knocked off. That’s very significant so we are going to have to be even better than we were.”
As victors over the defending champion Blackhawks, the Blues displayed impressive resiliency, composure and skill in round one. They were outscored 20-19, yet still won the needed four games. Their 19 goals are currently fourth amongst the 16 playoff teams, some of them now eliminated. Only two of the remaining teams have scored more. The Stars are one of the two.
Dallas had an impressive regular season. They were the highest-scoring team with an impressive cast of forwards, including: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp. Even with Seguin potentially sidelined for some or all of the series due to a lower-body injury, the Stars still boast a potent roster.
The Blues understand how to contain a high-powered offense, having just done so in the previous series by limiting star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to a combined one goal. But can they do it again? Hitchcock thinks so.
“Quite frankly, I think we have even more in us,” said Hitchcock. “I think you are going to see guys who maybe struggled with some of the burden of last series emerge as good players for us this series because they are just able to play hockey.
“There are some guys who had a tough time with that stress and pressure, they felt responsible and now it’s all gone and we can just coach and play.”
His players agree.
“If we bring the same effort that we played with for seven games, we are going to be in a pretty good position,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
While the Stars’ offense is impressive, the Blues’ group is nothing to balk at. Their club had 12 players who found the back of the net against Chicago, a team with a more established defense than Dallas. The Blues are also beaming with confidence.
“You see what this team is capable of, whether it is Chicago or anyone else,” said Pietrangelo. “We showed a lot of resiliency out there in that series. It’s a lot to be proud of. It brought us closer together than we already were.”
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The series, while it seems to be a favorable matchup for St. Louis, will not be a walk in the park by any stretch. Dallas’ 109-point regular season is a significant-enough reason to list them as a contender. Their league-leading 21 goals in a six-game series win over Minnesota last week is another.
“They have elements in their game that people think aren’t their strengths but when you coach against them, you realize they are a lot stronger in those areas than people think,” said Hitchcock. “But we are the same.”
Whoever the opponent is, the Blues believe they have what it takes to handle any scenario. While they use the win over Chicago as motivation, and evidence of what it takes to succeed, that is its only significance now.
“We overcame a big team and now we have another one right off the bat,” said Elliott. “That’s what it is all about.”
“I think it’s time to move on from that series,” said forward Steve Ott. “We enjoyed it afterward. We talked about it, had a good time. Being successful in that round was a really key stepping stone for this organization moving forward. Now, moving forward to round two, guys are prepared and ready to go. It’s really uplifting in the dressing room, very confident team. It’s a really exciting time.”