DALLAS - Four days after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in an emotional Game 7 win, the Blues find themselves at American Airlines Center in Dallas, where they’ll begin their second-round playoff series with the Stars in tonight’s Game 1 (7 p.m., NBCSN, Y98 FM).
This series pits Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock against Stars bench boss Lindy Ruff. Both coaches have a storied postseason history: Hitchcock’s Stars eliminated Ruff’s Buffalo Sabres in six games in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final (which featured the infamous Brett Hull skate-in-the-crease goal). In 2006, Ruff’s Sabres eliminated Hitchcock’s Philadelphia Flyers in the first round in six games.
Hitchcock had some choice words for Ruff after that 2006 series, but they’ve made up: They won two gold medals together with Team Canada at the Olympics in 2010 and 2014, and they even were roommates for two-and-a-half weeks at the Olympics in Sochi.
“We’re born and raised maybe 50 miles from each other,” Hitchcock said. “I’m from the big city of Edmonton and he’s from Warburg. There’s some common ground there. We had a rough start with the Stanley Cup Final there (in 1999), smoothed it over and became good friends through the Olympic games. Being roommates for a guy for two and a half weeks, you get to know a lot about a guy.”
“Facing Ken is a challenge,” Ruff told NHL.com earlier this week. “Match ups are going to be tough, details are going to be tough. There’s a reason he’s coached so long.”
As for the regular season meetings between these teams, the Blues won four of the five games. Three of the Blues wins required overtime or a shootout. Kevin Shattenkirk led the Blues with five points against the Stars, while Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny each had four. For Dallas, Jamie Benn and Alex Goligoski had five points each against the Blues.
“They’re a team that has a lot of firepower. They’re geared more towards offense,” Shattenkirk said. “Chicago was a team that obviously are very offensive-minded, but they have a little more structure. Dallas is focused on getting pucks out of their zone and going right to the offensive zone. They have a lot of dangerous players, guys who can hurt you one-on-one. We’re going to have to be on our toes and make sure we’re playing everyone honestly.”
Dallas could be without forward Tyler Seguin for some games. He is recovering from surgery in March to repair a torn achilles tendon in his foot. He played Game 2 in Dallas’ first-round series against Minnesota, but he’s been out since then and isn’t skating.
“You get to this situation, it’s business,” Hitchcock added of coaching against Ruff and the Stars. “It becomes very impersonal to be honest with you. It’s all about us and our team and our city. That’s all that matters to me.”
ANOTHER PERSONAL CONNECTION
Steve Ott spent nine seasons with the Dallas Stars from 2002 until 2012, playing 34 playoff games with the club.
He says he’s looking forward to getting this series started tonight.
“I started my career there - I grew up and turned into a man overnight there,” Ott said. “They have really good fan support, same as us. The building is going to be buzzing there. We’re going into a place where they feel like they have some confidence, winning their playoff series, too. We’re trying to use the momentum we’ve got from our series win as well.
Ott went to the Western Conference Finals with Dallas in 2008. He said that Stars team was very similar to the current Blues in terms of leadership.
“We had a big leader named Brenden Morrow, a very similar guy to David Backes. When you have great leadership like we did when I went on a long run with them, I have that same feeling in this dressing room,” Ott said. “We have the leadership, the core group and invaluable members: your (Alexander) Steens, Shattenkirks, (Alex) Pietrangelos - the list goes deep and it’s so long - (Paul) Stastny, (Troy) Brouwer - these types of guys remind me of the guys we had on my long (playoff run with Dallas) as well. When you have the collectiveness we’ve built, it’s a really fun time.
“This is going to be a really hard-fought series. They’re a top team in the Western Conference and we want to show we belong in the series with them.”
The Blues held an optional morning skate in Dallas, so we didn’t get a look at the lines for tonight. We wouldn’t expect much to change, though.
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Alexander Steen - Patrik Berglund - David Backes
Steve Ott - Kyle Brodziak - Scottie Upshall
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
The last time the Blues and Stars met in the playoffs was 2001 - Roman Turek backed the Blues to a sweep in the best-of-7 series. But that’s only the most recent meeting in a long and storied playoff history. Our own Dan O’Neill wrote more about that earlier today.
This series will mark the first time the Blues have started a playoff series on the road since 2009 against Vancouver.
Fans can enjoy tonight’s game at the official Blues Bashes: Watch at Ballpark Village or HotShots O’Fallon (1319 Central Park Dr., O'Fallon, IL 62269).