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Game 7 ultimate test for Stars, Blues

Dallas, St. Louis brace for unexpected in deciding game

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

FRISCO, Tex. -- This is where they will be tested. This is where they will find out how small the difference is between going on and going home, between getting the bounce and not, between winning and losing. They all have confidence in their teams and teammates, built over 82 games in the regular season and two rounds of playoffs and endless meals on the road and jokes in the room and pinpoint and not-so-pinpoint passes. 

So how can you tell who will move on? Is there a feeling that happens before a Game 7? Is there a sense that this team will advance, that that team won't?

"I really don't know," Dallas Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya said Tuesday. "It's one deciding game. It's so even. I think we're going to see a tight-played game, probably one goal that decides it. I'm not going to say it's a lottery because I don't think it is, but it's so even and you look throughout the year and you end up in a situation like this, where it can be one bounce that decides it."

There are, of course, ways to put teams in the best position possible, Oduya acknowledged. But, he said, neither team has a different mindset. Neither team is going in any less eager to win and move on. And sometimes, it is that bounce that does it.

"I think it just comes down to whoever has, maybe, a little bit of a better night or a better bounce or whatever you call it," Oduya said. "Obviously you work for that."

With that in mind, both the Stars and the St. Louis Blues espoused eagerness for Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round, which will be played at American Airlines Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN), for the drama and the excitement, for the experience of being able to prove something greater or more about themselves and the groups they've worked with for nearly eight months. 

Video: Hitchcock looks ahead to Game 7

The teams have come off two games in which they have mirrored the play of each other, the Stars getting the bulk of the chances in Game 5 and losing at home, the Blues getting the bulk of the chances in Game 6 and losing at home. Both teams have pulled goaltenders, with Dallas' Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi each getting taken out early earlier in the series, and St. Louis' Brian Elliott suffering the same fate in Game 6. 

Still, there is confidence in the dressing rooms. Confidence from experience, including that of the Blues in the Western Conference First Round, where they won a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Confidence from the way they have played previously. Confidence from the fact that neither team has truly had the upper hand in this series, neither has ever entirely stolen more than about 60 minutes of play. 

"It's a very proud group," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said in St. Louis. "It's a group that's been resilient all year. It was built through adversity, a really proud group. I would be awful shocked if you didn't get our A-game tomorrow and our best game. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough.

"I think you're going to get our A-game tomorrow and that's what I'm looking forward to. This is what tests you, this is a chance, our guys should be excited. This is a chance to knock off some really good hockey teams to get a chance to play in the conference final."

The sentiments were much the same here, where an optional team skate was attended by virtually every member of the Stars, where their confidence was just as high. 

Video: Ruff on having the home ice advantage

"I think that if you look at the way this series has gone with the way the regular season has gone, it's even more fitting that we've got to Game 7 again," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's two good teams that were separated by two points, that at different times in the series have both had their way with their play. It's the team who's going to be able to execute and push through tomorrow and then, at times, hold off when the other team is coming with their push."

That, in the end, is as good an explanation as any of what might happen on Wednesday. It's an unknown, a matter of a bounce, a matter of something that no one can predict. 

"I think we get to make up what we want, we really do," Ruff said. "[The media] get to take any angle you want, and I could make up anything I want. I could tell you what I think's really important: I think that you're going to have some opportunities inside of tomorrow night's game to seize the momentum in the game, to take advantage, whether it's a 2-on-1 [or something else]. 

"You're going to see there's going to be opportunities to seize or change momentum in the game because we got two really good teams that are going at it here, two really close teams. You're going into a Game 7 after playing a regular season that three of the games went into overtime, shootout, each 1-1. It's hard hockey out there."

It's hard hockey. It's unpredictable hockey. And as much as the Stars and Blues would like to be able to predict how Game 7 will go, to know who will get the momentum and the bounces and the win, they can't. No one can. It's Game 7. 

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