By Lou Korac
The Blues have had these tough starts to games a few times throughout the playoffs but have been able to recover.
Dipping one’s hand in the cookie jar one few many times will eventually cost you, and even after shoddy play early, the Blues had the chance to redeem themselves with the man-advantage against the Dallas Stars on Saturday in Game 2 of the Western Conference second round series.
A poor start and an ineffective power play ultimately cost the Blues in a 4-2 loss on Saturday at Enterprise Center, evening the best-of-7 series 1-1. The series now shifts to Dallas for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 is Monday at 7 p.m.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, who was peppered early with Grade A scoring chances but finished with 31 saves. “These teams are here for a reason. Both are good and both can play, so … we’re going on the road tied 1-1.”
Dallas got two goals and an assist from Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop recovered from a so-so Game 1 to finish with 32 saves and improve to 11-3 following a loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I do a pretty good job of not carrying the luggage with me,” Bishop said. “I’ve been pulled, I’ve given up six (goals). It happens. That’s the cool thing about playoffs. Every game is a new game and you don’t carry on that from the last game. You can have good ones, you can have bad ones. There is obviously a bigger spotlight on the bad ones and everybody else wants to blow them up. But I’ve done a pretty good job of leaving them in the rear-view mirror and getting ready for the next one.”
St. Louis was its own worst enemy early and fell behind 3-1 on goals by Hintz at 7:11, Miro Heiskanen at 13:39 and Mattias Janmark at 14:51 after Colton Parayko, who had a goal and an assist, scored at 14:25 to cut the Stars lead to 2-1.
“We made a couple mistakes and they capitalized,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said succinctly.
They sure did, and it started with the first goal when Pat Maroon coughed up a puck near the blue line with the chance to get it out, and Hintz scored from the slot to make it 1-0 after Mats Zuccarello curled around Joel Edmundson and made a play to an open Hintz in the slot. Binnington got a piece but not enough.
Heiskanen’s goal that made it 2-0 came off an Alex Pietrangelo zone entry, and when he whipped a puck through the low slot area, Dallas turned it back around catching the Blues flat-footed. It turned into a 2-on-1 after Heiskanen burst up the ice with Hintz, and they were able to maneuver around Carl Gunnarsson and Heiskanen tucked a drag into an empty cage.
But Parayko got a big goal less than a minute later on a wrist shot from the high slot to make it a 2-1 game, but on the next shift, Brayden Schenn lost puck possession, then Jason Dickinson was able to beat Schenn and Vince Dunn to a loose puck and go in with Janmark on another 2-on-1. Dickinson fed Janmark at the right post and he crammed it through Binnington’s pads to suck the life out of the building again.
The last three goals came during a 4-on-4, which the Blues did not handle well at all.
“They took advantage of some opportunities they had there,” Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said of the Stars. “Our puck play wasn’t as good, wasn’t as sharp as it usually is. They took advantage and executed on their opportunities. We did a good job climbing back, but that’s a lapse we can’t have.”
Added Berube: “We’ve got to make a better puck decision in the neutral zone and then back our defense up on the play. A few mistakes on that.
“At times when we turned it over, we turned some pucks over in that first period and they transitioned well. They’re a good transition team. We have to make better plays there and make sure we’re putting it in deep.”
From there, Bishop, who allowed three goals on just 20 shots in Game 1, made sure to keep the Blues at bay.
Bishop, who grew up in St. Louis, had fans chanting his name derisively throughout the games here. He even teased them when he almost knocked in a David Perron shot off the back boards into his own net but alertly swiped it off from the goal line to keep it a 3-1 game in the second.
“You don’t think about it during the game, but now, you can chuckle about it,” Bishop said. “It’s pretty crazy to think you were that kid up there in St. Louis, screaming [Ed] Belfour’s name and now, you’re on the ice and they’re screaming your name. Never in a million years would I have thought that when I was watching playoff games as a kid that I would be in the net playing against the Blues. But it’s pretty neat now. I’m not thinking too much about it, but obviously, it’s pretty cool.”
The Blues had a late power play in the first but failed to convert. It was a sign of things to come. It continued with a 24-second 5-on-3 that produced nothing and a power play at the end of the game with 2:45 remaining that didn’t produce much, including a 6-on-4 for 55 seconds when the Blues pulled Binnington.
“We ended up with the puck on the face-off with the power play and made a bad play and gave it back to them,” Berube said. “We get the puck there, get set up, we can get our goalie out a lot quicker and get 6 on 4 with more time.
“We got some good looks. They did a good job up ice on us and disrupted our breakout at times. Winning the face-off is important, obviously. We lost some draws and kills your momentum a little bit. We had some good looks but not enough. We’ve got to do a better job of little things, like in the breakout, better execution, and face-offs, execution too. That will help for sure.”
Schwartz scored 1:48 into the third period to make it 3-2, a goal that needed review just to make sure it went in, and then there was a Stars challenge for goalie interference.
Schwartz, who leads the Blues with five playoff goals, tipped in Parayko’s wrist shot by Bishop cutting to the net. It went in and out so fast that officials didn’t initially call it a goal but after conferring, did. The Stars then challenged and the goal was upheld.
It was the kind of goal the Blues needed quickly in a period to gain the momentum, and they had it.
“We had that belief to come back,” Schwartz said. “This time of year, be able to score and win games when you’re down in them. We had a good push and had a lot of zone time. Pucks were right around the net, we just couldn’t finish them.”
That momentum was there. The Blues were outshooting Dallas 28-19 when Perron was called for goalie interference with 7:21 left. The Stars had their second power play and had nine — NINE! — shots on goal but Binnington kept them at bay.
“That’s was impressive by him,” Parayko said of Binnington. “He made some big saves. We had good defense in front and everything was huge.”
And with the Blues pressing for the tying goal, Hintz iced it with an empty-netter with three seconds remaining.
“Both teams played hard,” Schwartz said. “This time of year, there’s not a lot of space. Forwards track hard, D have tight gaps and it’s physical. That’s how playoffs is this time of the year. We’ve just got to do a better job of using our speed and finding those holes.”
“It’s going to be tight,” Berube said. “Both teams play good defensive hockey, both goalies are playing well. Our power play could have helped us tonight, it didn’t. That might have made the difference in the game.”
Center Ivan Barbashev left the game in the second period but returned after colliding with teammate Vince Dunn.
* NOTES — Berube and Binnington took their turns getting accolades from the NHL.
On Friday, Berube was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” Berube, Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper and New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz are the finalists.
“It’s a great honor for sure to be in the conversation with those other coaches,” Berube said. “I’ve said that all along, it’s an organizational thing. Doug [Armstrong’s] done a great job of putting the players together and my coaching staff, obviously a great coaching staff, they’ve done a great job with these guys and the players. For me, it’s the players. They’ve come together and played well as a team and bought into what we’re preaching. That’s why we’re here where we’re at.”
Berube is 38-20-4, including the playoffs, since he took over for Mike Yeo on Nov. 19.
And Binnington was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the league.
Binnington, Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin are the finalists.
Binnington went 24-5-1 with a league-leading 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in the regular season.
“Very honored,” Binnington said. “It’s been great here, the team has been great for me and I’m very honored and humbled to receive the recognition.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports
Here are the post-game interviews from Saturday’s game: Craig Berube, Jordan Binnington, Colton Parayko, Jaden Schwartz