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Agnew: Goaltending difference for Stars

Former NHL assistant says Lehtonen boosts Dallas' confidence heading into Game 5 against St. Louis

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Western Conference Second Round series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, 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.

DALLAS -- There was a stark difference in Game 4 for the Stars as compared with Game 2 and Game 3: goaltending. And that helped translate into the Stars' getting the win against the Blues Thursday, tying the best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Game 5 is Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, TVAS, SN) at American Airlines Center.

Kari Lehtonen got the start in Game 4, after getting pulled after one period in Game 2. He allowed three goals in that game on just five shots, which led to Antti Niemi getting the call in that game and to start Game 3. Of course, Niemi didn't last the second period in Game 3, getting pulled less than three minutes into the period, after allowing three goals on 12 shots.

It was Lehtonen again Thursday, but it was a different Lehtonen.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Lehtonen denies Lehtera's great chance

"I thought Lehtonen was as good as he's been," Agnew said. "He made some big saves. The big one in overtime, obviously, before they scored, but even as the game was going along he made some big saves and helped them gain some confidence, I think."

That save was on Jori Lehtera, at 2:45 of the overtime, on a shot from the wing off a setup by Vladimir Tarasenko. Thirteen seconds later, Cody Eakin got the game-winner.

"I think it's critical," Agnew said, of the improvement in net. "Because as a player, when you're a skater and you're thinking we're not getting anything by [Blues goaltender] Brian Elliott and they're just every once in a while coming down the ice and scoring on our guy, that becomes frustrating.

"When your goaltender's making the big saves and you make the mistake and he makes the big saves, you owe him one. So it's time for you to get your act together too. So I think when your goaltender's going, everything's going."

It was a slow start to the night for both teams, Agnew noted, before the game ramped up and the teams found their rhythm.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Faksa wrists it past Lehtonen

Still, there were deficiencies on both sides.

"I didn't think either team had great puck management throughout the game," Agnew said. "When you look at the turnovers, the [Radek] Faksa goal, even the Tarasenko breakaway when [the Stars] had too many men on the ice, the turnover inside the blue line and everyone's up ice and away they go.

"I think both teams are going to have to do a better job of puck management."

That was just one of the things that St. Louis didn't do as well as it had in Game 3. It looked as if the Blues were going to start rolling after Tarasenko scored at 10:17 of the first period to make it 1-0. But then came the Joel Edmundson turnover and the Faksa goal and the Patrick Sharp goal 69 seconds later and all of a sudden Dallas was ahead.

"I thought St. Louis managed the puck better in Game 3 than they did in Game 4," Agnew said. "Managing the puck, managing the momentum, just managing the game. … I thought Dallas made the right adjustments in the style of play that they had. I didn't think St. Louis kept with their style of play. I thought Dallas stuck with it longer and got rewarded for it."

He noted, too, that Dallas was being a bit simpler with its passes, something Agnew had said the team needed to do after Game 3. The passes shrunk to 10 feet or 12 feet, rather than the team going for the long pass.

"I thought, too, that Dallas had more structure in their neutral zone forecheck," Agnew said. "Maybe not early on because they did give up the middle early on, but as soon as they pulled back a little bit and kind of clogged up the neutral zone, it made it a little more difficult for St. Louis to get through there."

Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Sharp slips PPG past Elliott

It was a simple play, too, that allowed Sharp to score in the second period, ending an 0-for-12 Dallas run on the power play in the series.

As Agnew said, "That's the type of simple play that works in the playoffs, the same as St. Louis has pounded it at the net and had [David] Backes tip it in or put in a rebound, same sort of idea."

And with that play, and the win for Dallas, the series has turned into a best-of-3.

"Both coaches have lots of information that they can share with their players and I think you'll have attentive groups and more determined groups on both sides," Agnew said. "I think it's going to be a really quick, hard-checking game, because obviously [Stars coach] Lindy [Ruff] came with what he had to do, [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] is going to come with what he has to do.

"Now you've got a best two-out-of-three. The adjustment time is shorter, so you've got to be ready to play right off. I think Hitch will probably want his team playing more physical, keeping it on the forecheck and I suspect Lindy's just going to want to continue with what they did at the end, certainly in the last half of the game."

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