By Lou Korac
DALLAS — If anyone blinked in the final seven minutes between the Blues and Dallas Stars on Monday, get the remote out and hit rewind on the DVR.
And for it to come down to two St. Louis grown players to decide the outcome is quite the coincidence, with Pat Maroon staring down Ben Bishop from the side of the goal in the waning minutes.
Oakville vs. Chaminade.
But it was Oakville’s Maroon winning the war by scoring the tiebreaking goal with 1 minute 38 seconds remining in regulation to help the Blues pull out a dramatic 4-3 win over the Stars in Game 3 of the Western Conference second round at American Airlines Center.
The teams combined for four goals in a 5:16 span after it looked like the Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, would hold on to three different one-goal leads. But the Stars wouldn’t budge, forcing the Blues to try to one-up them for a fourth time, which they did.
And in typical form, as they did in Game 1 of the first round series against the Winnipeg Jets when Tyler Bozak scored with 2:05 remaining of a 2-1 Blues win, this time it was Maroon. And it came off a cycle play, where the Blues’ third line, with Robert Thomas, simply grinded their opponents down.
Maroon and Thomas were able to get a puck into the corner, and Maroon went to work behind the net, doing enough to poke a puck and leave it at the back of the net. Bozak came in, cycled it off, and eventually got a puck back to Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester wristed a puck off the back wall. Maroon played the perfect carom after knocking down Stars defenseman Esa Lindell, who had a moment of his own earlier in the game. Maroon peeled off to his right and pulled the puck to the front and raised a wrister over Bishop’s right shoulder into the net. No goal was initially signaled on the ice, and Maroon didn’t know it right away either but celebrated with his teammates seconds later.
“I think he just fell over me,” Maroon said of Lindell. “We were just battling and he tried to get the edge on me and he fell on me. I got an opportunity to use my hands in front and get the puck up quick. At first, I didn’t know if it went in. But we found a way to get it in and we found a way to win tonight.”
They most certainly did, but not without some anxious moments, that included a shorthanded goal allowed and another late goal allowed off a turnover.
The Blues even had to withstand the final 43.3 seconds of a delay of penalty call on Colton Parayko.
So how does one explain such a finish?
“Hard to explain,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who put the Blues ahead 3-2 with 5:36 remaining on his first goal in 18 games. “I tell you what, these playoffs. We’ve had a few of those. One against Winnipeg, it was the same thing (Game 5). Just keep playing, sometimes it might take 60, sometimes it might take more. We’re just going to keep playing, whatever it takes.”
“Yeah, it was back and forth,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “We made a few mental mistakes. The shorthanded goal and just a couple of plays where we’ve just got to be better there. But we stayed with it and so did they. They battled, too, and obviously kept it close right down to the end. We made a couple of mistakes that cost us and went into our net, but we stayed with it and battled back. It was obviously a huge goal by Patty Maroon. I thought that line was really good tonight.”
The Blues led the game 2-1 and had the chance to put it away with a late power-play goal, but instead of putting it away, Andrew Cogliano tied the game 2-2 converting a 2-on-1 after Brayden Schenn tried to get the puck to Vince Dunn at the point. But upon further review, Schenn was tripped on the play by Cogliano, a play that was not called by Steve Kozari or Kelly Sutherland, and it went back the other way. The Stars tied the game with 6:54 remaining.
“It’s unfortunate,” Dunn said. “Guys are trying to make plays. It’s the power-play. There’s no pointing fingers on anyone. It’s just an unfortunate break. They go down, it goes off my knee, off Binner, backdoor to a guy for a tap-in. It’s unfortunate, but I think in all, we found a way to win. It took all four lines, all six D. Another good game by Binner. It’s about finding ways to win right now.”
The Blues didn’t panic, and that was key.
“We didn’t panic at the end,” Dunn said. “A lot of the other games when we’re in a lead, we’re kind of sitting back and giving them a lot of momentum in their transition. I think tonight we continued to push. A couple bad breaks on some goals that we can kind of look back and learn from. I think in all, we moved the puck a lot better tonight and we were a lot more connected.”
Pietrangelo’s one-timer from along the left wall, a shot that may have fooled Bishop, beating him short side, helped the Blues reclaim that lead at 3-2 just 1:18 after Cogliano’s tying goal. It’s been a theme of what they tend to do: regroup and go back at it instead of those early-season games in which the Blues would curl up and wither away.
“Go get another one,” Pietrangelo said. “We had a couple of chances there but they got momentum with (that goal). How do you get the momentum back? Go out there and score another one. I thought we did a good job of that.
“… We’re resilient. This group has a lot of character. Everyone’s in the game and you don’t know who the hero is going to be. It’s not the way we drew it up before the game but we’ll take it.”
It appeared that would be the game-winner, but not so.
A Pietrangelo turnover led to Tyler Seguin’s tying goal with 4:08 left and tied the game 3-3.
“Yeah, just a couple of mistakes,” Pietrangelo said. “Couple bad bounces. That’s going to happen. This time of year is unpredictable. Bad ice … you find a way to win.”
It couldn’t have been a better start to the game for the Blues, who got a team-leading sixth goal in the playoffs from Jaden Schwartz. He redirected a Parayko point shot up and over Bishop to give the Blues a 1-0 lead 1:27 into the game.
But as the period went along, the Stars got some footing and converted on a late power-play goal by Alexander Radulov with 2:48 left in the period. It came, first, after a terrible tripping call on Bouwmeester, but there was a clearing attempt just inside the blue line by Robert Bortuzzo, and he fanned on it. Bozak tried winning the board battle for the puck and it never left the Blues’ zone, and Jason Spezza found Radulov on the far side and he one-timed a shot past Binnington to tie the game 1-1.
The Blues had 15 shots in the second period, good sustained time, and got the go-ahead goal from Bozak at 8:30.
Dunn made the play, with a burst in along the right side, cuts back, feeds Thomas near the top of the right circle for a one-timer on a perfect low-high play. The shot trickled through Bishop and Bozak was at the right post to backhand it in near the goal line for a 2-1 lead.
“We talked about it,” Dunn said. “They like to collapse down low. Whenever we can spread them out and create offense like that, I think we find ourselves getting more pucks to the net. They do a good job of getting in front of them. When we can kind of create space on the outside and get more pucks on the inside, that’s when we’re getting more chances out front.”
Bozak added: “I just tried to get to the net. Take away his eyes. ‘Thommer’ had a great shot and pretty lucky for it just to be sitting there. But I’ll take them any way I can get them.”
The Blues found a way to improve to 4-0 on the road and 6-1 in one-goal games these playoffs, and Jordan Binnington, who made 28 saves, became the first goalie since Cam Ward in 2006 to win his first four playoff starts on the road. He also tied an NHL record for most wins (30) in his first 39 NHL appearances, matching the record set by Frederick Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 31, 2014.
“I don’t know, I can’t explain it,” Berube said. “We’ve been a good road team all year. Our road record has been fantastic all year. I thought right from the get-go, we were engaged right away in the game. We were aggressive and it sets the tone for us for the game.”
“It’s hard to explain I guess,” Bozak said. “Every line’s going, every line’s playing. We just play hard. We don’t get too down, don’t get too up. Just stay even-keeled and whatever happens, just try and stick to our game plan and play the way we want to play.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports