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5 Reasons: Why Blues advanced

Elliott's performance, Hitchcock's coaching proved too much for Stars

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

DALLAS -- The St. Louis Blues advanced to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001 after their 6-1 defeat of the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round on Wednesday.

The win was a byproduct of what has worked for the Blues throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs; they're more than just forward Vladimir Tarasenko on the offensive side of the puck.

Here are 5 reasons the Blues advanced:

1. Brian Elliott -- Elliott has been the backbone of the Blues. Despite being pulled in the first period of a 3-2 loss in Game 6 after allowing three goals on seven shots, he responded with a 31-save effort in Game 7.

Elliott outplayed Stars goalies Kari Lehtonen, who was pulled after the first period of Game 7, and Antti Niemi. Elliott was 3-1 in the series on the road with a 1.69 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, and made the whole scenario of who would start Game 7 an afterthought.

"I think he was as focused as anyone," Blues center Paul Stastny said of Elliott. "I think we all knew that he was playing. When [the media] asked us who was playing, I think that surprised us more than anything because in the locker room we figured [Elliott] would be playing. The next day it wasn't even a question. We knew he was going to be playing. He's a winner. He's a pro. He didn't have a bad game. But when you only play 10 minutes, I think it [ticks] him off a little bit, and he just came back out here and proved what he's been doing all playoffs and all season for us."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Elliott extends pad for toe save

2. Hitchcock's coaching maneuvers -- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock crafted some clever moves throughout the series. He inserted forward Dmitrij Jaskin into the lineup for the first time in Game 5 and Jaskin scored the game-winning goal. He flipped Alexander Steen and Jori Lehtera, putting Steen with Lehtera's "STL Line" linemates Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko, and played Lehtera with David Backes and Patrik Berglund. He went with Steve Ott in Game 7 because of his veteran presence.

Most importantly, he stayed consistent with Elliott, while Stars coach Lindy Ruff went back and forth between Lehtonen and Niemi.

"I want people in the lineup who can add to the group, add the energy to the group," Hitchcock said. "... I'll put those guys in accordingly."

3. Special teams play -- The Blues dominated the special teams department. Their power play went 6-for-21 and the penalty kill was 18-for-20.

"Special teams can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing, especially when you have two teams that don't have a lot separating them," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We [did] a great job of keeping them out of those high-percentage areas on the ice and we scored some timely goals on the power play."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Blues advance to WCF with 6-1 win

4. Road warriors -- The Blues got the job done on the road, going 3-1 at American Airlines Center. Combined with winning two of three games at United Center against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, they're 5-2 away from Scottrade Center during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues outscored the Stars 15-7 in Dallas, including 10-2 in Games 5 and 7.

"I think we're trying to take every game for what it is, and that's one game at a time and trying to take care of business whether we're on the road or at home," Backes said. "I think that lends us to play a simple, hard, effective road game. When we are on the road we're giving ourselves chances. With one goal in the third period on the road, you give yourself a chance to do some damage. And we've done that. We've come up with some goals at key times and the result is a decent road record."

5. Stastny line domination -- The line of Stastny centering right wing Troy Brouwer and rookie left wing Robby Fabbri wasn't together for every game, but when they were playing they were able to produce at the most opportune times.

The line combined for nine points (one goal, two assists for each) in the Game 7 victory and had 23 points in the series. Stastny had seven points (three goals, four assists) in the final five games going without a point in Games 1 and 2. Brouwer had eight points (four goals, four assists); the Blues were 4-0 in games when he had at least a point, 0-3 when he didn't. Fabbri also had eight points (two goals, six assists).

"We've got a lot of chemistry lately," Brouwer said. "Even in the first round we had a lot of [defensive] zone responsibilities. But this time we've had a little more offensive opportunities, and we love playing with each other. We're accustomed to each other.

"We made a lot of little plays, little short plays in and around their [defensemen in Game 7], and buried our opportunities. We talked before the game, said we wanted to be the difference in this game [Wednesday], and I feel like we made a good impact."

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