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Agnew: Stars need to forget Game 3

Former NHL coach says Dallas has to adjust for Game 4, not dwell on 6-1 loss to St. Louis

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Western Conference Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Gary Agnew to break down the action. Agnew will be checking in throughout the series.

Agnew, 55, was an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also served as interim coach of the Blue Jackets for five games during the 2006-07 season, and he has been coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League and London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.

ST. LOUIS -- One of the keys in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is realizing that things might not be as bad as they seem, and might not be as good either.

That should be the takeaway for the Dallas Stars after a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 in the Western Conference Second Round on Tuesday, according to former NHL coach Gary Agnew.

"You can't beat yourself up over it," Agnew said. "I think you've got to look at it, quickly make some adjustments and then forget it. It's a short-term series. It's seven games; it's not 82 games. So you've got to erase it and get on. You can't worry about it.

"It's a mental hurdle that you've got to get over. Promote that it's down 2-1, not that you lost 6-1."

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The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is at Scottrade Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

That the Stars trail the series by one game is a fact somewhat obscured by the Game 3 score. And by the end of Game 4 the teams could be even heading back to Dallas. Of course, the Blues also could have taken control of the series.

To prevent that the Stars need to find solutions to a few issues that cropped up in Game 3, notably some defensive deficiencies. Agnew said he believed that it was more of a defensive issue than goaltender-related despite the Stars having to pull their starting goaltender early the past two games.

"I think when a team is forechecking the way St. Louis is, you need closer puck support," Agnew said. "So I think that rather than making a 25-foot pass you can make a 10-foot pass and then another one to get that 20 or 25 fee that you're trying to gain in ice. Because when that defenseman has the puck and he's looking up ice and he's got a guy barreling down on him, he's got someone else coming underneath him, you don't really see the guys that are up-ice.

"So I think closer puck support would help them in terms of taking away and just trying to get some speed, which they need; speed through the neutral zone. Use the middle of the ice if they can. But I think closer puck support would be key for them on that."

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It was a similar message to the one that Agnew had for the Stars after Game 2 in that one of the keys for them was to simplify a part of their game. In that case it was in relation to a power play that is 0-for-11 in the first three games of the series.

"Just back to the real simple things of board battles and puck races and second-man support," Agnew said. "St. Louis was doing all of that and Dallas needed to do more of that."

That and having more energy. To Agnew that goes hand-in-hand with the need to simplify and the need to get over the mental hurdle of the Game 3 loss. But the Stars need to find a way to erase the recent past and to get back to what they do particularly well.

The Blues, meanwhile, were impressive in their ability to impose their will on the Stars. After the Blues came back to tie the game less than a minute after the Stars scored the first goal in Game 3, the Blues controlled play. Their physicality and forecheck forced Stars turnovers and poor puck management.

This was the Blues playing to who they are, and led by forwards Alexander Steen and David Backes, doing all the little things that need to be done.

"[Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] is rolling his four lines pretty good and he's got Backes and Steen and those guys have all bought in and they're fulfilling their role," Agnew said. "They look fairly unflappable right now. They're playing the way they have to play and that's their identity. They're just sticking with the game plan."

St. Louis is playing to its strengths. Dallas did not, at least in Game 3. But that could flip for Game 4.

"It's their turn to adjust, and for them it's just a mental thing," Agnew said of the Stars. "Yeah, you lost 6-1, but the series is 2-1. You get a split in St. Louis, it's 2-2 and now it's different. That's the selling point, or the point that the leadership group in there have got to say: 'We need to see what we need, we need to adjust and we need to play harder.'"

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