By Lou Korac
DALLAS — A chance to put a stranglehold on this series, the Blues reverted back to their Game 3 ways against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
And that wasn’t very good.
The lethargic, turnover-prone Blues returned in Game 4 of the Western Conference second round against the Dallas Stars, and the series now becomes a best-of-3 after the Stars dismantled the Blues 4-2 on Wednesday at American Airlines Center.
The best-of-7 series is now tied 2-2 with Game 5 moving to St. Louis on Friday (8:45 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
The Stars made switches to their lineup, and the Blues proclaimed they were ready for them, but not even close.
Dallas scored four unanswered goals after the Blues grabbed a 1-0 first-period lead, but this was a Blues team that skated slow, made puck mistakes paid a heavy price. And frustrations boiled over for the Blues, who have been relatively calm these entire playoffs.
Not much went right on Wednesday.
“They wanted it more tonight in the first two periods,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said.
And for one of the rare times in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues seemed to lose their edge.
It started when David Perron slashed Stars goalie Ben Bishop in the back with roughly a minute left in the first. Perron did slash Bishop, but the Stars goalie did go down rather easily. Perhaps the Blues felt there was some embellishment there, ala Esa Lindell in Game 3.
“Yeah, I was reaching, trying to prevent him from playing,” said Perron, who had no penalty called on him. “I don’t know, he’s 6-6, so he’s a big guy.”
Bishop said, “He just slashed me in the back,” and in a spot where there isn’t any padding.
“I don’t have padding on my back,” Bishop said.
And then at the end of the second, nemesis Jamie Benn was in Jordan Binnington’s grill, perhaps some payback for Perron’s slash, and gave Binnington a spear in the groin area, prompting Binnington to take a whack at the Stars captain. Binnington also, off camera, could be seen skating by Bishop as the teams were leaving the ice and it got heated as the period ended and the Stars leading 4-1.
“Sometimes games aren’t going to go your way,” Binnington said. “It’s playoff hockey. Stuff happens. You try to change the game up a little bit and we’ll see what happens.”
Bishop said Binnington didn’t say anything to him and just gave him a whack.
“Yeah, I wasn’t looking,” Bishop said. “I didn’t even know that he was there.
“He just hit my stick.”
Binnington said he didn’t do anything to Bishop.
“No. Just skating off,” he said. “Emotions were high, I came back in here and regrouped. Like I said, it’s playoff hockey. It’s exciting. The fans are into it. It was an exciting game and we’re looking forward to the next game.”
Binnington, who made 27 saves, was also asked about Benn slashing him.
“Ahh, stuff happens,” Binnington said. “I don’t really remember. It’s playoff hockey. He’s an effective guy and we’ve just got to handle and take care of what we can control and play our game.”
Benn said, “There’s nothing really to comment about. Just a bunch of grown men being donkeys out there.”
Berube doesn’t mind the fired up attitude displayed from Binnington and appreciated him standing up for himself.
“He’s competitive,” Berube said. “I don’t know what Jamie Benn’s doing, skating down there and he’s getting in Binner’s face. So he’s just reacting a little bit, but he’s a competitor.”
But by then, the Stars had things well in control. They were more aggressive, possessed pucks more and looked two steps faster than the Blues did. And more importantly, Dallas won the net front battle.
“Yeah, they came out with more urgency than we did,” said Blues center Ryan O’Reilly, who had two assists but lost 17 draws again to make it 56 lost face-offs the past three games. “Sure, obviously it was good getting the first goal, but we didn’t respond well. They played better than us. If you look at the whole game, we had some good things at times, but our consistency wasn’t there.
“… They were possessing pucks down low against us, which gave us issues and kind of wore us down where we didn’t find our game in our offensive structure until later on and it was too late. That happens. Adjustments we’ve got to make. We’re disappointed in ourselves, that wasn’t the game we wanted, but it’s a best out of three now and we’re confident we’ll turn it around.”
The Blues got off to a good start again tonight, and Vladimir Tarasenko struck on the power-play to make it 1-0.
The change the Blues made flipping Vince Dunn and Alex Pietrangelo worked out well, and Dunn was able to find Tarasenko on his off-wing and his wrister beat Ben Bishop glove, short side at 5:02 of the first period.
But the Stars countered and started playing with the puck in the Blues’ zone and tied it 1-1 after Jay Bouwmeester, had his cross ice stretch pass intercepted by Jason Dickinson, who cleaned up a rebound in front of Binnington at 11:23 after the Stars gained the zone and worked the Blues down.
Colton Parayko got caught on the wrong side of Tyler Seguin twice, and Seguin was able to knock a loose puck to Dickinson in front.
A questionable interference call in Tyler Bozak late in the first period resulted in the Stars scoring on the ensuing power play when Jason Spezza’s one-timer from the top of the right circle off a broken play gave Dallas a 2-1 lead with 51.8 remaining in the first.
Bozak was called for interfering perhaps Tyler Seguin, maybe, at best, at the side of the Stars goal when Robert Thomas made a terrific little curl move to the net that could have resulted in the Blues going ahead. But Brian Pochmara made the call and it cost the Blues.
“I mean, yeah, obviously a big goal by Vladi there, but we didn’t get to our game enough and we have to be a little bit more physical, a little bit more into them,” Perron said. “It was tough to obviously get scored on on the Bozie call there. At the end of the day, we have to play better and in the second period they were the better team. We’ve got to do like we did in the third period.”
The goal seemed to zap a lot of life out of the Blues, and in the second period may have been the Blues’ worst in some time. Two goals came off odd-man rushes, and another by Bouwmeester when he got picked from behind in the neutral zone by Mats Zuccarello and led to John Klingberg’s goal at 9:26 to make it 3-1, a wrister from the slot.
Roope Hintz made it 4-1 off another odd-man through the middle of the ice, and Benn found Hintz streaking in alone after Robert Bortuzzo vacated his position and gave Hintz a lane to make it 4-1 at 17:28.
“It’s not that they got to their game. They were desperate,” Berube said. “And we didn’t match that desperation in the first two periods. We did in the third and we played a good period.”
Robert Thomas, who was arguably the best Blues’ player, scored in the third at 13:44 to make it 4-2 on a wrister from the left circle after Bishop lost his stick saving Alex Pietrangelo’s one-timer. It was Thomas’ first NHL playoff goal.
The Blues outshot the Stars 12-5 in the third but too little, too late.
“At times, I thought we moved the puck well, we showed good o-zone, it just wasn’t the full game,” O’Reilly said. “It’s going to happen. They had more sustained pressure than we did. It’s the way it went.”
The loss was the Blues’ first on the road in these playoffs (4-1).
“They came out hard and it took us a bit to get going there, but things are going to happen,” Binnington said. “You’ve got to stay in control and focus on your job and that’s what we’ll do going into the next game.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports