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Elliott, Blues look to repel Benn, Stars

St. Louis goaltending could be difference against offense-minded Dallas

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

The offensive firepower of Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars will be pitted against the elite goaltending of Brian Elliott and the hard-hitting St. Louis Blues, beginning in Game 1 Friday at American Airlines Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).

Here are five areas that could decide the Western Conference Second Round series:

1. Goaltending gap: Of the various differences between the Stars and the Blues, the most striking is in goal.

The Blues have Elliott, whose .950 even-strength save percentage in the first round ranked second to Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (among those to start at least four games).

In the regular season, Elliott led the NHL in save percentage for the second time in five seasons with the Blues (.930).

Dallas goalies Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen combined for a .916 even-strength save percentage in the regular season, which ranked 27th in the NHL. In the first round, their .911 save percentage ranked 13th among the 16 teams.

2. Shooting Stars: If facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round weren't enough of a challenge for Elliott, his talents will be put to the test by the NHL's best offense.

The Stars carried their scoring success from the regular season into their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild. Dallas averaged 3.50 goals in the six games, which ranked second to the Pittsburgh Penguins' 4.20, and led the playoffs with a 12.5 shooting percentage in even-strength situations.

3. Benn there: To neutralize the Stars' scoring, the Blues may choose to focus on Dallas' greatest offensive threat, its captain.

Video: MIN@DAL, Gm5: Ja. Benn beats Dubnyk with nifty move

Over the past three regular seasons, Benn has scored 110 goals, tied with Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks for third in the NHL (Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, 153; Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks, 116). Benn has scored 255 points, second behind Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (273).

Benn is a scoring threat in all situations, even when shorthanded; his 13 points in that category ranks third behind Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks (15) and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins (14).

This postseason, Benn leads the NHL with 10 points, and his four goals are one behind the League lead (Pavelski; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Tavares, New York Islanders).

4. Get physical: One method St. Louis may employ to shut down Benn and Dallas is to continue the same hard-hitting style that worked against Chicago.

In the first round, the Blues led the NHL with 283 hits, which is almost double the Stars, who had 142, two more than the Detroit Red Wings for the fewest in the League (Detroit played one fewer game).

Troy Brouwer, who has the most playoff experience on St. Louis, led the Blues with 36 hits, which ranked second in the NHL behind Matt Martin of the New York Islanders (38).

5. In the zone: The Blues are getting used to playing in their end. Of the 235 faceoffs outside the neutral zone in their series against the Blackhawks, 142 took place in the St. Louis defensive end. The resulting 39.6 zone start percentage was the lowest of the postseason.

In the regular season, St. Louis had a zone start percentage of 48.7 percent, which ranked 22nd in the NHL, and was second-lowest among playoff teams (the Florida Panthers ranked 24th at 48.3 percent).

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