The second round starts tonight, and it features the first game between two division opponents who pulled off six-game upsets in the first round. The Stars and Blues begin what is expected to be a thrilling series, with Game 1 at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis.
Here’s a quick look at how each team made it to this point, and some keys to victory for tonight’s matchup.
Road to Round Two
The Blues and Jets was an evenly-matched series, with the series knotted up at two games apiece after the road team won all four games. However, the series changed in Game 5, when the Blues came back from a two goal deficit and scored three times in the final period, including a game-winner by Jaden Schwartz with 15 seconds remaining in the game. Schwartz then got a hat trick in Game 6, clinching the series win for the Blues.
Coming in as the heavy underdogs, the Stars stole Game 1 in Nashville before losing the next two. Down in the series, Dallas dominated Game 4, stole Game 5 on the road, and won the series on a John Klingberg overtime goal in Game 6. They became the third Wild Card team to advance to the second round, joining Columbus and Colorado and later Carolina.
Keys for Dallas
The Stars upset the Predators thanks to a dominant performance from their first line. Tyler Seguin racked up six points, including two goals, Jamie Benn had six points, and Alex Radulov had six points as well, to go along with a team-high four goals. St. Louis did a good job of limiting the productivity of Winnipeg’s first line, so this trio will once again have to be on top of their game.
With Dallas getting production from their first line as well as Ben Bishop, another x-factor will be the role of the depth players. The rest of the Dallas forwards combined for 14 points in the six-game series, four less than the total of just the first line. Depth players like Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, and Mats Zuccarello will need to find some more consistency.
Keys for St. Louis
The Blues are coming off one of their best games all season, when they held Winnipeg to just six shots on goal through the first two periods. The defense has been exceptional, and will need to continue against Dallas, especially against their elite first line. Expect Ryan O’Reilly, a solid two-way player, to be on the ice a lot when Seguin and company are taking their shift. Also expect a lot of attention to be on the pairing of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, who drew the Jets’ first line last round.
Of course, another key will be goaltender Jordan Binnington. The rookie was solid, making several critical saves on breakaways and end-of-game shot barrages. He also looked exposed at times, especially during a 6-3 drubbing in Game 3. St. Louis has a strong defense that will limit the danger in front of him, but can he make those big-time saves once again?
Even though regular season matchup numbers are usually meaningless, it should be noted that the Stars won three out of the four matchups against the Blues this season, all coming after Mike Yeo’s departure. But past the results, St. Louis significantly outshot them, outchanced them, and won the possession battle handily. With Binnington, and home ice, I’m picking the Blues -155 to win this series, starting with Game 1 tonight.