By Lou Korac
Something about the Blues and Game 5’s on home ice when the series is tied 2-2. It doesn’t go well.
It hasn’t the past five times in this exact same scenario, and it’s on the verge of being six in a row after the Dallas Stars, behind St. Louis’ Ben Bishop, came out with a 2-1 win on Friday in the Western Conference second round at Enterprise Center.
Until Jaden Schwartz scored at 8:26 of the third period off a Bishop gift, the Blues didn’t have much going at all. They were bottled up by an aggressive, attacking Stars group. They were turnover-prone after coming out of the gates flying with physicality, and their puck management left little to be desired.
But the topper may have been a poor power-play that was 0-for-4 with only five shots on it.
It all boiled up into the Blues’ second loss in the series and the first deficit the Blues have had in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, trailing the best-of-7 series 3-2 now needing a win in Game 6 on Sunday (2 p.m.; NBC, KYKY 98.1-FM) to force a Game 7 at home.
“I mean, there were ups and downs all game,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “There was real good stretches where we were good, physical, on top of things, getting some looks. But there were other times when we were a little bit sloppy, for sure, with our puck play that caused them to get opportunities.”
Brayden Schenn set the tone. He came out and laid a big hit on Stars defenseman John Klingberg 12 seconds after the drop of the puck. It got the 18,542 buzzing right off the hop and the Blues were hoping to feed off the momentum.
But that was not the case.
Jason Spezza, who did little to nothing in the first-round series against Nashville and relegated to a fourth line role, scored his third goal of the series 2 minutes 42 seconds in to flatten the life in the crowd and zap the Blues’ energy. It came after Jordan Binnington, who made 25 saves, made a point-blank save on Mattias Janmark following an odd-man rush. Joel Edmundson, who was caught out of position because he was upended by the Dallas bench that — par for the course — officials Francis Charron and Dan O’Rourke obviously missed, could not recover. But the line of Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas and Pat Maroon couldn’t get the defensive matchup in proper position. Bozak missed his man (Spezza) coming down the slot and he took a pass from Tyler Seguin.
The Blues built some momentum as the period moved along, but Bishop, who made 38 saves, kept the door closed.
The first of four power-plays for the Blues was a microcosm of things to come. Former Blue Roman Polak was in the box for holding, there was nothing good to come of it or any of the remaining ones.
“Breakouts,” Schenn said. “I don’t think we’re entering the zone as good as we can. It’s making it pretty tough on each other. We’re kind of putting each other in bad spots. I think execution has gotta be way better. As soon as the execution picks up, then the swagger will come, the confidence will come and that’s when we start getting chances.”
“Execution,” Berube said. “Any time the power play isn’t clicking, they pressure you, they do a good job of pressuring, but we have to execute better. That’s what it boils down to, execution.”
And it wasn’t good.
Binnington kept the Blues at bay by making a number of stops, including multiple breakaways from sloppy puck management.
The dam finally burst again when Esa Lindell came through the middle of the ice uncontested and scored on a harmless backhand off the leg of Jay Bouwmeester, who along with defensive partner Colton Parayko backed in and allow the ice time at 6:13 of the second to make it 2-0.
And it call came to a boil when at the end of the period, the Blues played with the puck like a hot potato and were booed off the ice.
“The second period wasn’t great, but when you only give up two goals, they didn’t get a whole lot,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.
Schwartz scored at 8:26 when Bishop, in an attempt to play the puck, laid it off to his right softly and Schwartz came in and snapped a shot top shelf. Bishop may have played the puck quick because of Robert Thomas barreling in hard on him, but it gave the home side life.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I think I was trying to fake it and just touched it a little bit,” Bishop said. “But playing the puck as much as you do, you know that’s going to happen. When it does happen you’re super upset because you’re surprised because it doesn’t happen more often. It’s one of those things where I wasn’t bothered by it. You just really want to close it out when it happens.”
And that’s what Bishop did, including make a sprawling left pad save on Oskar Sundqvist with 4:15 remaining.
“I saw him there,” Bishop said. “And then he started to go around me. Just desperation. Throw your leg out there and luckily he hit it.”
There were at time pucks laying in the crease, and Blues skaters either were over-skating by the crease or simply not getting there.
“We had a lot of good looks and there were rebounds there,” Berube said. “They did a good job of boxing out, being hard around their net. But we definitely had our looks.”
“I thought we played pretty well, especially in the first period and the third, I thought we controlled most of the game, but we’ve got to find ways to score more than one goal,” Pietrangelo said. “One goal is tough this time of the year.”
And one more loss will make it even tougher, because it will send the Blues packing.
“A loss is a loss, it doesn’t matter where it is,” Schwartz said of falling to 2-4 on home ice in the playoffs. “It’s obviously tough but we feel confident about bringing it back here. It has to be our best game.
“Got to win or you go home, simple as that. Desperation level needs to be the highest its ever been. Got to play our best game and we feel confident going in there.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports