DALLAS - The most storied playoff match-up in Blues history will begin another chapter tonight in Dallas. The playoff rivalry between the Blues and Stars dates back to 1967, when both teams were a part of the NHL’s first round of expansion.
The Stars originally broke in to the NHL as the Minnesota North Stars before migrating south to Dallas. Since their inaugural season, the Blues have met the Stars in more playoff series, 13 (including 2016), and games, 66, than any other franchise. The Stars have accrued a slight advantage, winning 34 times to the Blues’ 32.
In late April of 1968, the first season for both expansion franchises, they clashed in the postseason for the first time. The Blues ultimately prevailed in seven games in what remains as one of the most significant playoff series in franchise history. So as we look forward to the modern day meeting between these familiar foes, it’s fun to remember it’s origin and the names and faces that shaped the narrative.
On April 21, 1968, the Blues hosted the North Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup semifinals. The Blues had advanced through the quarterfinal stage after finishing the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.
The Blues-Stars series featured four overtime games, and the only playoff penalty shot in Blues history. The late Jimmy Roberts was awarded the attempt but was denied by North Stars netminder Cesare Maniago. In the series finale, the two expansion teams played just over four periods of hockey before the Blues experienced the biggest win in their playoff history.
At the 2:50 mark of the second overtime, centerman Ron Schock beat Maniago, sending the Blues to the Stanley Cup Finals to face the Montreal Canadiens. Schock’s goal was the first of three Game 7 overtime goals in Blues history, but the only one that resulted in a trip to the promised land.
The next Game 7 OT winner, ironically, also came at the expense of the North Stars, just four years later. After missing each other in 1969, the Blues and Stars faced off again in three consecutive first-round series from 1970-72.
In ’72, the series, like four years before, went the distance. Both teams held serve on home ice, with Minnesota winning Games 1, 2 and 5 and the Blues capturing 3, 4 and 6. In contrast to 1968, Game 7 took place in Minnesota and this time, the hero was Kevin O’Shea - a right-winger that appeared in only three NHL seasons during his career.
Along with his brother Danny, Kevin donned the Blue Note from 1971-73. He was claimed on waivers by the Blues from Buffalo on Mar. 9, 1972 and played only four regular season games with the Blues before the postseason began. His overtime winner, one of five total goals he scored with the Blues, came at the 10:07 mark of the first extra frame and once again, it was Maniago who conceded the goal.
In the 80’s, some more recognizable players were the faces of success for the Blues in their battles with the North Stars. In 1984, Doug Gilmour buried an overtime winner to tie the division semifinals at a game apiece. Nine days later though, Steve Payne – a career-long North Star that scored three career postseason overtime goals for the franchise – sent the Blues to the tee boxes in Game 7.
In 1989, the Blues returned the favor. They began the division semifinals with overtime wins on back-to-back nights in Games 1 and 2. “Golden Brett” ended Game 1, while former Blues captain Rick Meagher was the OT hero in Game 2.
In 1993-94, the North Stars erased the directional adjective, moved over 900 miles south and re-emerged as the Dallas Stars. In their first postseason in Dallas, they made quick work of the Blues, sweeping them in the conference quarterfinals. In Game 3 of the series, former Blues defenseman Paul Cavallini – who played pats of six seasons in St. Louis – scored the overtime winner for the newly-formed Stars.
Five years later came one of the most tightly contested series in Blues history. In fact, the 1999 conference semifinals was the second of three series in Blues history that featured four overtime games - the first was the aforementioned 1968 semifinals while the most recent was the 2014 conference quarterfinals with Chicago.
Before getting to the Stars in '99, the Blues had to go the distance with the Phoenix Coyotes. Pierre Turgeon deflected-in Ricard Persson’s shot for the overtime winner in Game 7, prompting Blues announcer Ken Wilson to exclaim, “Oh baby! Bring on Brett Hull and the Dallas Stars!”
That season, the Stars, who were led by current Blues boss Ken Hitchcock, bulldozed through the regular season, leading the NHL with 51 wins and 114 points. Their roster featured the likes of Mike Modano, Joe Nieuwendyk, Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov, and of course, Hull, who had been signed as a free agent during the summer of 1998.
The four overtimes featured goals from the usual suspects. Pierre Turgeon and Pavol Demitra tallied for the Blues in Games 3 and 4, respectively, while Joe Niewendyk gave the Stars a 2-0 lead in Game 2 and Mike Modano ended the series in Game 6.
And finally, the most recent Blues-Stars installment happened in 2001. After outlasting the San Jose Sharks in the conference quarterfinals, the Blues swept the Hitchcock-led Stars, boosted by a Game 3 double overtime win on a goal from Cory Stillman. The Blues would then fall to Colorado in the conference finals, as the Avalanche made their way to a Stanley Cup title.
The significance of the past is evident and the uncertainty of the future is exciting. Imagine if, just as they did in 2001, the Blues beat the Stars to advance to the conference finals. Who might write themselves into the all-time series chronicles this time around?
In keeping with the overtime theme, perhaps Troy Brouwer auditioned with his clutch goal in Game 7 against the Blackhawks in the first round. Perhaps former Dallas Star Steve Ott will haunt his old team to play a significant role, the way Hull and Cavallini once haunted the Blues..
The Blues-Stars drama is just beginning. Stay tuned.