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 playoffs.
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 has been coach of Syracuse of the American Hockey League and London and Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.
DALLAS -- The way Game 7 started was, in the end, far from where it finished. When it started, both teams had energy, with the Dallas Stars skating well and creating chances and the St. Louis Blues doing the same, with the opportunity for a good, well-played, tight game still a possibility.
But it devolved, quickly. And then it was over, with the Blues eliminating the Stars in a dominant Game 7, the 6-1 win sending St. Louis into the Western Conference Final.
"They've got to be really confident," Agnew said of the Blues. "They won two Game 7s, one at home, one on the road. I thought that they played a complete game. I thought they checked well, I thought they won the board battles, they got to pucks early. The big duo there, [Jay] Bouwmeester and [Alex] Pietrangelo, played well, they shut down [the Stars]. And then you had goaltending, like [Brian] Elliott brought it.
"I think they've got to be feeling pretty good about themselves, the way their game has been."
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Elliott denies the Stars in the 2nd
The biggest gulf, ultimately, was in the goaltending, with Elliott emerging for the Blues and Kari Lehtonen disappointing for the Stars. There had been some question of whether Elliott had finally been fallible after a Game 6 in which he was pulled in the first period, and whether Lehtonen had finally conquered the questions about his game. But it did not work out that way, with Elliott making 31 saves on 32 shots and Lehtonen allowing three goals on eight shots.
"I thought Elliott rebounded really well, made some great saves, kept his team where it had to be," Agnew said. "And unfortunately for Dallas, I thought the third goal, [Patrik] Berglund's wrister from the point, was a real backbreaker."
That was a questionable goal, allowed by Lehtonen with 3.8 seconds remaining in the first period. It wasn't the only goal he allowed of that nature, leading Stars coach Lindy Ruff to replace him with Antti Niemi to start the second.
Still, it wasn't just that, even if the end of the first period was the downfall for the Stars, with a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko being overturned because of an offside, giving Dallas life, and the Blues cutting short that life with a Paul Stastny goal 43 seconds later. It was something that, as Agnew said, had the effect of making the Stars look "a little bit dazed."
"I think you have to give credit to St. Louis," Agnew said. "Their special teams were good, the penalty killing, the power play. Their goaltending was good. The areas you think of in a Game 7, they were the better team."
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Elliott extends pad for toe save
And then, after Dallas had missed on a couple of choice opportunities, including a chance by Valeri Nichushkin at 7:01 of the first when he hit the side of the net off a beautiful feed from Mattias Janmark, and a scramble in front of a vacated net 2:33 into the second when there were chances by Colton Sceviour and Cody Eakin, the Blues put the game away. As Agnew said, "It just become a matter of Dallas pushing, pushing, pushing, didn't finish a couple opportunities and then next thing you know, [David] Backes goes down and makes it 4-0 and now it's really on."
Agnew was able to see a couple of Blues emerge in Game 7 and throughout the series, though ultimately what impressed him most was their ability to have different players step up in different moments. Individually, though, it was Robby Fabbri, it was Elliott, it was Stastny. It was Troy Brouwer.
"I think Brouwer made a huge difference to their game, just that line with Stastny, the way he's checking and he had a big impact on the series," Agnew said. "I thought that group, that threesome, that trio, were a big key to how St. Louis was able to get through that series."
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Brouwer nets beautiful tic-tac-toe play
And, as it often seems to, it came down to the goaltending. The Blues had it, including a particularly impressive skate-toe save by Elliott in that sequence at 2:33 of the second. The Stars didn't have enough.
"Brian Elliott's really emerged as a solid goaltender, a No. 1 goaltender in the League," Agnew said. "He's had some criticism, but boy, you've got to like the way he's playing. He's such a competitive guy. He never gives up on the puck, even though it looks like it's an empty-net tap in. He's still coming across, working hard to make the save and hope that maybe there's a chance he gets it. You've got to love his competitiveness."