Although both the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues were the lower-seeded teams in their first-round matchups, they finished as the two hottest teams out of the Central Division. From the trade deadline until the end of the regular season, St. Louis (12-5-3) and Dallas (12-6-2) had the fifth- and seventh-best records league wide.
Now they’ll face each other in Round 2 for a rematch of a 2016 series that went seven games and sent the Blues to the Western final. Both teams have awards finalists on their side — Ben Bishop for the Stars, Ryan O’Reilly and Jordan Binnington for the Blues. Both coaches are in their first seasons behind the bench, but have found a way to get the most out of their teams when it’s mattered.
Here’s a closer look at the Dallas-St. Louis series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Dallas: 48.32 CF% (22nd), 50.56 GF% (16th), .935 SV% (2nd), 6.87 SH% (29th), 1.004 PDO (11th)
St. Louis: 51.50 CF% (10th), 53.04 GF% (10th), .921 SV% (12th), 8.1 SH% (14th), 1.002 PDO (13th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Dallas: 21 PP% (11th), 82.8 PK% (5th), 209 GF (28th), 200 GA (2nd)
St. Louis: 21.1 PP% (10th), 81.5 PK% (9th), 244 GF (14th), 220 GA (5th)
St. Louis: 1-3-0
The story of the first round:
Let’s begin with the Stars, who trailed 2-1 in their series with Nashville then won the last three games in a row to move on. Despite having one of the stingiest defences in the NHL this season, Dallas allowed an average of 36.3 shots against in Round 1, the second-highest mark in the league. They did allow the 15th-most shots in the regular season, but Dallas does an excellent job keeping most of those to the outside and were the ninth-best team in high danger chances against, per Natural Stat Trick. In Round 1, however, they allowed more quality chances than usual, but still earned more for themselves versus Nashville.
Their saving grace was Ben Bishop, who both literally and figuratively stood tall in the crease. The six-foot-seven Vezina Trophy finalist posted a .945 save percentage and 1.90 GAA in the opening round, which was bested only by Robin Lehner, who swept the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was just Dallas’s second playoff series win since 2008.
The Blues, meanwhile, controlled 51.71 per cent of the 5-on-5 shots against Winnipeg, but just 42.22 per cent of the high danger chances — the lowest mark of any Round 1 winner. The fact Binnington enters Round 2 with a pedestrian-looking .908 save percentage is a bit misleading considering he allowed less than three goals in four of his six Round 1 games.
The real story for the Blues was how Jaden Schwartz, who struggled to just 11 goals in the regular season, scored four consecutive goals, and both game-winners, in Games 5 and 6 to lift the Blues to victory. Had he not scored on a mid-air pass with 15 seconds left in regulation of Game 5, we might be talking about the Jets in this space.
Stars X-Factor: Bishop obviously needs to be strong again – and you can say that about any goaltender this time of year – so we’ll look instead to Jamie Benn. In Round 1, we recognized Mats Zuccarello as Dallas’ X-Factor, since the trade deadline pickup’s return to the lineup after breaking his arm was a huge last-minute addition.
Zuccarello did score three times, but perhaps the most interesting development of Round 1 for the Stars was the reunification (for the most part) of the Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin–Alexander Radulov super line. The fact Benn came through with six points was huge, but that only one of those was a goal leads us to believe more is coming in the scoring department.
Benn was buzzing all series and recorded 22 shots for a very low 4.5 shooting percentage. After scoring just four times in 22 games from Christmas to Feb. 19, Benn scored at a 32-goal pace the rest of the regular season. Meanwhile, Radulov and Seguin were both offensively consistent all season — Radulov went three games without a point just three times, and never more than that. Seguin went pointless three games in a row five times, one of which was a season-high four-game drought. So if Benn is back to his usual bull of a player and comes through with a couple more goals, Dallas may go on with a better offence than their 29th-place finish in the regular season would indicate.
Of course, if all three are used together regularly against the Blues, more pressure will be put on Zuccarello and the second line. It’s worth recalling what Stars coach Jim Montgomery said at his introductory press conference last summer: “you have to let horses run.” Look for lots of double shifting for the big three in Round 2.
Blues X-Factor: You have to go all the way back to 2013-14, when Vladimir Tarasenko was a sophomore, to find a season in which he didn’t lead the Blues in even-strength scoring. The last time the Blues went to the Western Conference final in 2016, eight of Tarasenko’s nine goals were at even strength. This time of year finding goals at 5-on-5 is often the difference.
In Round 1 against Winnipeg, Tarasenko scored twice – both of which came on the power play. Those are still important, of course, but considering all we’ve said about how well Bishop has played for the Stars, St. Louis needs to pick up the pace a bit at 5-on-5.
The only team that averaged more 5-on-5 goals per game in Round 1 than Dallas was the New York Islanders. The Blues scored four fewer goals in these situations than the Stars in Round 1 and the best way they can make up this difference is if Tarasenko gets rolling.
Stephen Johns, Head (out)
Mattias Janmark, Lower body (day-to-day)
Martin Hanzal, Back (out)
Marc Method, Lower Body (out)