DALLAS – St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was hoping for some momentum-building performances that his team could carry into the playoffs.
Alex Steen, David Perron and Jaroslav Halak gave Hitchcock exactly what he was looking for.
Steen and Perron scored power-play goals, Halak stopped 33 shots, and the playoff-bound Blues beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Kris Russell added an even-strength goal for the Central Division-champion Blues, who snapped a season-worst four-game losing streak (0-2-2) to finish with 109 points—the most since they had 114 in 1999-2000.
St. Louis is the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and will play the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blues became a conference power after Hitchcock took over behind the bench early in the season, leading the team to 43 wins in the final 69 games.
“All of us are excited,” Hitchcock said. “We’re really proud of what’s going on here. Who knows? This is the new season. Your best players have to be your best players and others have to step up.”
Russell opened the scoring with 8:54 left in the second period on a shot deflected off Stars defenceman Philip Larsen’s stick. The puck popped into the air, fluttering over Stars goaltender Richard Bachman’s right shoulder and into the net for Russell’s sixth of the season.
Steen notched his 21st of the season to give St. Louis a two-goal margin at 7:54 of the third, and the Blues survived goals from Stars rookies Ryan Garbutt and Larsen in the game’s final 11 minutes.
Now the Blues can turn their full attention to the playoffs.
“We made the playoffs. That was our goal,” Russell said. “Now we have to build off our regular season. We have to make sure we come prepared.”
The Stars ended their season with 89 points, losing their final five games. Dallas was eliminated from playoff contention with Thursday night’s 2-0 defeat at Nashville.
Dallas, which will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth straight season, went with a lineup that featured seven rookies including Bachman, who started instead of Kari Lehtonen and finished with 32 saves.
A makeshift group of newcomers and veterans caused some disjointed play by the Stars.
“It was a different game, but I thought we competed hard, and I thought some of our young guys showed pretty well,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said.
The Stars had risen to the top of the Pacific Division with a 10-0-1 run through March 13, but they drifted out of the top eight with a 3-9-0 finish.
Hitchcock went with his top-end players rather than protecting them from injuries in an effort to stop the late-season skid.
He didn’t like the way his team got started when St. Louis was whistled for three minor penalties in the game’s opening 10 minutes. But the Stars generated only one shot on goal in the three chances. Dallas’ power play started the night tied for last in the NHL (13.8 per cent).
As the game wore on, the Blues raised their level against a rookie-laden opponent.
“I thought we started slow, got into penalty trouble, had an 18-minute span where we were really good, then I thought we were really good in the third period,” Hitchcock said. “We could have scored five or six goals. I was really, really happy.”
NOTES: Dallas had won 10 straight home regular-season finales before Saturday night’s loss. … The Stars remain stuck on 99 all-time wins over St. Louis. … Blues D Barret Jackman played in his 598th career game, tying Chris Pronger for ninth on the franchise’s all-time list. Larry Patey is eighth with 603 games. … D Jordie Benn and RW Scott Glennie made their NHL debuts for Dallas. Veterans Steve Ott, Mike Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray, Stephane Robidas, Radek Dvorak and Mark Fistric were among the Stars’ scratches.