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5 Keys: Stars at Blues, Game 3

Ruff coy on starting goalie; St. Louis needs 'STL Line' to get going

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues play Game 3 of their Western Conference Second Round series at Scottrade Center on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports). The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

Here are 5 Keys for Game 3:

1. NET DECISION

Stars coach Lindy Ruff decided to be as confusing as possible while discussing his goaltending decision Tuesday.

First he said Kari Lehtonen would start.

"We've been going with Lehtonen, so we're going to stay with him," Ruff said.

Then he said he wasn't going to share his decision when asked about it again. All the while Lehtonen was on the ice, which normally would indicate he was not starting. Antti Niemi had come off the ice first.

Lehtonen had two saves on five shots in the first period of Game 2. Niemi was in net to start the second period and held the Blues off the board until allowing David Backes' power-play goal in overtime of a 4-3 loss.

So who gets the start in net? Can Lehtonen bounce back? Is it time to give Niemi a start in this series?

The final decision will be revealed at game time.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm2: Niemi stones Brouwer with the pad

2. SENSE OF STYLE

In Game 1 the Stars were able to play their style of hockey. In Game 2, the physicality and pace favored the Blues.

So what will it be in Game 3?

With the game at Scottrade Center, the Blues will be able to get the matchups they want. That could favor the way they would prefer to play, slowing the Stars and keeping them from the long passes and rushes that have helped them score in the first two games.

3. 'STL' IN STL

The Stars thus far have been able to keep Vladimir Tarasenko under wraps, while tagging the "STL line" of Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera for two goals-against in Game 2. Tarasenko has no points through the first two games. Schwartz, who has been playing very well, and Lehtera also have no points.

That's unlikely to continue, nor can it continue if the Blues want to win the series.

"I've seen a line that has high expectations and is learning how to play against extreme checking and getting better and better," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "… I think these guys are learning that there's a huge difference between regular season and the playoffs. I think they're seeing that firsthand and they're getting better and better because they're getting used to how hard it's going to be. There were times in the Chicago series, times in Game 1, where they were a little surprised. But I don't think you're going to see them surprised anymore. I think they're ready for this now."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm2: Elliott, Tarasenko prevent goal in 2nd

4. PLAYING WITH THE LEAD

The Blues took a 3-1 lead into the third period of Game 2 and then fell into a prevent defense, which allowed the Stars to come back and tie the score.

If the Blues are able to get the lead in Game 3, they will need to play with the jump that they need to extend that lead, rather than settling for just trying to keep the Stars off the scoreboard. That didn't work in Game 2.

"I think it's a natural tendency that players get into that they don't want to get caught," Hitchcock said. "They think in terms of protecting rather than attacking. It's every team. … I think it requires a real mindset collectively, not just one line doing it. Everyone's got to be focused. The first thing that happens is you get a little quiet on the bench, you get a little quiet on the ice, you stop talking. And when you stop talking in this style of game, the games are so fast and so physical now, you get slow. When you get slow, you stop skating and you start chipping pucks in. Every team goes through it."

The next time it happens, though, the Blues need to be able to recognize it and avoid it.

5. DEFENSIVE MINDED

With the uncertainty in net for the Stars, that puts the focus on their defense.

The Stars weren't a powerhouse defensive team in the regular season. They were 19th in the regular season at 2.78 goals-allowed per game. They've been slightly better in the playoffs at 2.75 goals-allowed per game.

So with a potentially rattled Lehtonen in net or, more likely, with Niemi in there, the pressure is on the Stars defense to shut down the Blues.

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