DALLAS -- The Dallas Stars failed to capitalize on some early scoring opportunities in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round on Wednesday at American Airlines Center. The St. Louis Blues made them pay.
Defenseman Jason Demers nearly gave the Stars the lead less than two minutes into the game, but Blues goaltender Brian Elliott made the first of his 31 saves, a pad stop at close range. The Blues then took advantage of their first power play when Robby Fabbri scored at 5:23, and they were off and running to a 6-1 victory that moved them into the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001.
Dallas had two quality chances not long after Fabbri's goal, but Valeri Nichushkin missed an open net at 6:57 and Elliott stopped Jason Spezza's wrist shot from the slot 13 seconds later. Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund scored in the final 1:38 of the period for a 3-0 lead.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff said the missed chances cost his team dearly.
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Fabbri lifts backhander past Lehtonen
"They're a good team and we missed a couple looks that they'd probably have to win that game 2-1," Ruff said. "Even when we started pushing, we missed too many good opportunities to get back in it. But it's not the ending you want; it's a big disappointment."
The missed chances were more costly because of the first-period struggles of goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who lasted all of 20 minutes in the first Game 7 of his career.
Lehtonen looked shaky on all three goals that counted in the first period, as well as on one, by Vladimir Tarasenko, that was overturned after a coach's challenge because Tarasenko was offside. Lehtonen finished with five saves on eight shots before being replaced by Antti Niemi to start the second period.
"It's tough how it can end so quickly," Lehtonen said. "We had all the momentum and all the hopes we can keep going a couple of hours ago and now we don't have it."
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Stastny beats Lehtonen in tight
Despite Lehtonen's struggles, Stars captain Jamie Benn wasn't about to pin the season-ending loss on the Stars' starting goaltender.
"I don't think there was any issue [with Lehtonen], just maybe some tough plays by us," Benn said. "We wouldn't be here without him, so I don't think we can keep questioning his play tonight."
Ruff took some of the blame for Lehtonen's performance, saying he should have pulled him before the end of the first period.
"He would want them [two of those goals] back," Ruff said of Lehtonen. "I think maybe it's on me. We had the review [on the Tarasenko goal], and maybe it looked like he got a little bit rattled. I should have taken him out sooner, maybe after the second one. It's probably on me."
In the end, the missed chances and Lehtonen's struggles were too much for the Stars to overcome.
"We wanted to get off to a good start and try and get that first goal, get this crowd in it, and keep it going from there," Benn said. "But they scored some quick ones and then we had to kind of chase the game from there."
Video: STL@DAL, Gm7: Berglund beats Lehtonen from the point