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5 Keys: Blues at Stars, Game 1

Big guns will be relied upon again for heated rivals

by Amalie Benjamin @amaliebenjamin / Staff Writer

DALLAS -- The St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars play Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round at American Airlines Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Here are five keys for Game 1:

1. Familiar foes: With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set up the way they are, that breeds familiarity among postseason opponents, including the Stars and Blues, who played five times during the regular season. Three of those games went to overtime, though the Blues finished with a 4-1-0 record. Each team also won a game 3-0.

"I am sure they don't like us and we don't like them," Stars left wing Jamie Benn said. "The NHL built this [divisional playoff] system for the rivalries, and I think they've got one with the Stars and the Blues."

But it's not just that.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Stars coach Lindy Ruff shared assistant coaching duties for Team Canada, including at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and will meet for the third time in the NHL postseason. Hitchcock led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup over Ruff's Buffalo Sabres. They also coached against each other in the playoffs in 2006.

There should be no surprises.

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

2. Stars being stars: In the first round against the Minnesota Wild, the Stars were led by their big guns, Benn and Jason Spezza, and played without Tyler Seguin, sidelined by an Achilles injury. Against the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues were led by their big guns, the Vladimir Tarasenko line.

Both teams' stars need to keep it up.

Benn had 10 points in the first round, and Spezza had nine. Jaden Schwartz led the Blues with seven points, and Tarasenko had six. Benn, Spezza and Tarasenko scored four goals each in the first round.

"You really have to be aware of his strengths, which are just a tremendous shot and he's got that about from the top of the circles down," Ruff said of Tarasenko. "He's a strong body that can get inside on you. We have to be aware of him. There's no doubt you have to find him, you have to know when he's out there."

For the Blues to win, Tarasenko has to continue to be that dangerous player. For the Stars to win, their stars have to be the same.

3. PK vs. PP: It started out so well.

In their first game against the Blackhawks, the Blues' penalty kill left Chicago 0-for-5 on the power play, but it went downhill from there. The Blues allowed six power-play goals in 19 chances, the second-worst performance in the first round (68.4 percent). The Stars scored four goals on 19 chances, slightly down from their regular-season performance, in which they finished fourth in the League (22.1 percent).

That means the Blues will have to be better on the penalty kill to combat the Stars in this round, trending more toward the way they played in the regular season, when they were the third-best team in the League, as opposed to the first round of the playoffs.

Video: CHI@STL, Gm5: Schwartz goes top shelf for PPG

4. Rest not best? Even in the playoffs, there's such a thing as too much rest. It was something Ruff said he noted in Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders on Wednesday. Tampa Bay, which had five days off after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, came out flat. The Islanders, with only two days off, won 5-3.

"For the most part, I hate breaks," Ruff said. "I hate deciding [how much to practice]. You get even more scared of, well, did we do enough? Did we skate hard enough in between the days?"

Dallas last played Saturday, giving the Stars five days off. St. Louis last played Monday, which means the Blues will have three days in between Game 7 of the first round and Game 1 of the second round.

5. Net presence: With Kari Lehtonen the first goaltender off the ice for the Stars, it appears he will start against the Blues in Game 1. It was a bit of a mixed bag from Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in the first round, with Lehtonen getting four starts and Niemi two.

The Blues, on the other hand, went with Brian Elliott throughout, and called him a major reason why they defeated Chicago.

The real question right now with Lehtonen and Niemi is their play in the third period. The Stars melted down a bit in both Game 5 (Niemi) and Game 6 (Lehtonen) at the end of the game, giving up a game-tying goal with less than four minutes left and a game-winner in overtime in Game 5 and four goals in the third of Game 6.

The Stars will need to tighten up at the end of games in the second round.

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