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game recap

Blues cruise by Stars in Game 7

St. Louis in first conference final since 2001, will play Nashville or San Jose

by Steve Hunt / Correspondent

DALLAS -- The St. Louis Blues built a big early lead and defeated the Dallas Stars 6-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday to win the Western Conference Second Round series and advance to the conference final for the first time since 2001.

David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Troy Brouwer, Robby Fabbri and Paul Stastny combined for 13 points, and Brian Elliott made 31 saves for St. Louis, which led 4-0 less than four minutes into the second period at American Airlines Center.

The Blues, who won three road games in this series, will play either the San Jose Sharks or Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Final. Those teams play Game 7 at SAP Center on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).

Game 1 of the Western Final will be at St. Louis on Sunday.

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

"It's taken a lot of hard work from these guys, it's taken a group that has really bound together when we've had our back against the walls in a couple Game 7s and played our best hockey when we really needed it," Backes, the Blues captain, said. "Good feeling right now. We know we're one of the last four teams standing and we're halfway to our ultimate goal. We still have some work to do; it's a good feeling in this room right now, how we came out in Game 7, played a full 60 minutes."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is 5-2 in Game 7, including in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks. Stars coach Lindy Ruff is 0-4, having lost three as coach of the Buffalo Sabres.

"I think that [it's] a huge disappointment [to lose Game 7]," Ruff said. "We had good energy, but it's a tough way to end [our season]. Even when we started pushing, we missed too many good opportunities to get back in it."

The Blues have won two Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time. The last time that happened was in 1968, their inaugural season.

Hitchcock will take a third team to a conference final (Dallas, Philadelphia Flyers).

"To play in the conference final, I know as a coach here in Dallas (1998, 1999, 2000) I took it for granted and it was a big mistake," Hitchcock said. "I left here and thought all you do is play in the conference final or the Cup Final, then I went to Philadelphia and had early success there. That was 2004 and I've never been back since. Sometimes you can play your whole career and not play in the conference final, so it's pretty impressive."

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Berglund beats Lehtonen from the point

Brouwer, Fabbri and Stastny each had a goal and two assists. Backes and Berglund each had a goal and an assist. Vladimir Tarasenko scored an empty-net goal with 4:40 remaining.

Patrick Eaves scored for Dallas, which was the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after winning the Central Division.

The Blues took a 3-0 first-period lead on goals by Fabbri, Stastny and Berglund. Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, who made five saves on eight shots, did not start the second period, replaced by Antti Niemi.

"It was tough, a tough go," Lehtonen said. "[It was] similar to what we were able to do in Game 6 (a 3-2 win at St. Louis). Everything ends so quickly."

Backes scored 3:50 into the second period to make it 4-0.

"Our guys really brought it," he said. "It was great to see out of this group. We got a few good chances and we got a few key saves at key times, and stifled their attack, and were able to counter shortly after that, and that was the key to us continuing to put the pressure on for a full 60 [minutes]."

Dallas had several early chances, with Jason Demers forcing Elliott to make a pad save on his wrist shot off the rush 1:52 into the game.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Elliott stones Demers in front

Elliott was pulled from Game 6 after allowing three first-period goals. Hitchcock did not reveal him to be the Game 7 starter until Wednesday, though he admitted afterward he knew prior to that.

"Yeah, I knew yesterday when he came to the rink and stopped pucks, and we talked; I knew what we were going to get today," Hitchcock said. "So, that's what I needed to see. I wasn't jerking anybody's chain about who's starting and all that stuff. I just needed to know how he felt. When he came out and stopped pucks [on Tuesday], that was kind of the sign for me, I already knew he was ready to go."

Fabbri gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 5:23 with his third goal of the playoffs with St. Louis on the power play. Fabbri tapped in a rebound after Lehtonen stopped Brouwer's shot with a pad save.

Valeri Nichushkin had an opportunity to tie the game at 7:01 but missed an open net, instead hitting the right side of the goal.

St. Louis appeared to take a 2-0 lead with 2:21 remaining when Tarasenko scored. Ruff used his challenge, and Tarasenko was ruled offside and the goal was overturned.

The Blues did take a 2-0 lead 43 seconds later when Stastny scored with 1:38 remaining, and then made it 3-0 when Berglund beat Lehtonen from distance with four seconds to go.

Backes beat Niemi far post for his sixth goal of the playoffs 3:50 into the second period. Brouwer capped a 2-on-1 with his fifth goal of the postseason at 14:06.

St. Louis led 5-0 despite being outshot 25-17.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Stastny beats Lehtonen in tight

Eaves scored 5:05 into the third period. Alex Goligoski's slap shot from the top of the right circle deflected off Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson and landed at Eaves' feet at the near post, where he scored on a tap-in.

"It was a great, gusty effort that everybody came to play," Elliott said. "We played that kind of Blues road-style hockey. We got a lead early and then didn't really look back."

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