The Dallas Stars had the second-best home record in the entire NHL in the regular season. You wouldn’t know that through five games of their series against St. Louis, though, and if the old adage says a team isn’t in trouble in a series until they lose a playoff game on home ice, the Stars might be wading into exceptionally dangerous territory.
In Game 5, the Blues went into the American Airlines Center and skated away with a 4-1 victory, and they’ve now got the Stars up against the ropes with a 3-2 series lead heading back to St. Louis for Game 6.
For once, however, Dallas’ biggest concern following a loss isn’t the play of their netminder. Sure, Kari Lehtonen was beaten three times in Game 5, but the goals against came on a fortunate deflection, on a rebound following an awesome pad save and after a piece of abysmal defensive-zone coverage by the Stars. If anything, Lehtonen was the only reason the score wasn’t more lopsided. The Blues’ third goal, which was scored by Troy Brouwer, came with the Stars blowing coverage in such a way that Brouwer was able to set up shop with no one covering him right at the side of the net.
Dallas was likely never going to win this series if it became a defensive battle or a goaltending duel, and that’s exactly what the series has become as the Blues have smothered the Stars’ offense through five games. The Dallas blueline hasn’t necessarily been incapable of slowing down St. Louis on the rush, but once the Blues set up in the Stars’ zone, the coverage has broken down, lanes have opened up and St. Louis’ offense has been able to exploit those seams.
The Stars’ defensive woes have been exacerbated by the fact the offense is still trying to find its legs. Game 5 marked the third time in five games Dallas has failed to score more than twice and it’s the second time in three games the Stars have only beaten Elliott once in a contest. This is a team that scored 267 goals during the regular season — 15 goals more than the second-highest scoring club — but they’ve been unable to make good on the opportunities they’ve gotten. To be sure, it’s much harder to score when the Blues' best player has been goaltender Brian Elliott.
The only time the Stars were able to solve Elliott came when Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski slid into the slot and rifled a shot over the Blues netminder’s glove. That was it for the Stars’ offense as Elliott shut things down for the rest of the outing. His sliding pad save on Cody Eakin that was highlight-reel worthy. Elliott no doubt got some fortunate bounces — a Radek Faksa attempt trickled narrowly wide, Eakin flubbed a 2-on-1 opportunity and Jason Demers had a deflection graze the post — but he’s been so steady that even the frantic moments are starting to look easy for the Blues netminder.
At this point, it feels as though it’s going to take a four-plus goal game for the Stars to stay alive in this series, and even though that’s exactly what this roster was built for, that seems to be a tall task. Elliott has been fantastic, St. Louis’ defense hasn’t given Dallas much to work with and the Stars are still without sniper Tyler Seguin. Barring his return and Dallas having a breakthrough offensively, this series could be over come Game 6 on Monday and St. Louis could be heading to their first Western Conference final since 2001.