With the Dallas Stars leading 2-1 in the second period, center Cody Eakin took a slashing penalty against Blues winger Jaden Schwartz. It was from his seat in the penalty box Eakin watched as St. Louis’ Paul Stastny found the back of the net to tie the contest, and Dallas’ slim lead in an ever-important Game 4 slipped away.
Eakin wasn’t about to let his penalty which led to the game-tying goal be his memory of Game 4, though. After the teams battled back and forth in a scoreless third period, Eakin made his lasting mark on the contest in overtime.
Skating down the left wing, Eakin took a pass from Patrick Sharp less than three minutes into the extra frame. Blues defenseman Colton Parayko had given Eakin just enough room to operate that he could lift his head, pick his corner and let go a beautiful shot that found the tiny hole St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott left open over his right shoulder:
Eakin’s goal not only gave the Stars the 3-2 victory, but it knots the series at 2-2 heading back to Dallas. And though the Stars skated away with the victory, it wasn’t the most picture-perfect win of the post-season, especially defensively.
The Blues’ opening goal came on a broken play that somehow wasn’t whistled down even though the Stars had six players on the ice. But even with the extra Dallas defender, St. Louis sniper Vladimir Tarasenko was somehow able to find daylight behind the entire Stars defense for the clearest of clear-cut breakaways. It didn’t end with Tarasenko’s goal, either. The Blues had several odd-man rushes throughout the game and seemed to be able to earn those breaks with little resistance from the Stars’ defense. The unexpected hero may have been goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who got the call between the pipes in Game 4 after making a relief appearance in Game 3.
Lehtonen, who has been the better of the Stars’ two goaltenders in the post-season, stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced Thursday night, including two in overtime, to help Dallas past St. Louis in an incredibly important contest. The worry now, though, is if Lehtonen can maintain that level of play. It’s been the same problem the Stars have faced throughout the regular season and the first 10 games of the playoffs.
Both Lehtonen and Antti Niemi have had good games, sure, but the only time either has performed well in consecutive outings came in Games 1 and 2 against the Minnesota Wild. In those games, Lehtonen posted a shutout and followed that up with a 27-save performance. However, his save percentage has slipped from .979 following Game 2 of Round One to a pedestrian .906 following Game 4 of the second-round matchup with the Stars.
For the Blues, not much has to change. They’ve played the Stars about as well as any team has all season, and that’s been the case all series long. The difference-maker was Lehtonen, but that’s not to say Elliott had a poor game. If St. Louis can continue to bombard the shaky Dallas goaltending, though, the goals will come. It will be up to Dallas to answer back, just as they did in Game 4. The series now becomes a best-of-three, and the Stars and Blues will have a chance to strike first Saturday night in Dallas.