ST. LOUIS -- It came down to slivers, to millimeters, and moments and big saves at big times. Except, that wasn't how it was supposed to go. Not after the Dallas Stars took a 3-0 lead at 16:49 of the first period, knocking St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott out of the game and looking like a team full-speed ahead to Game 7.
Not quite. It wasn't that kind of game, with the Blues pushing, with the Stars reacting, with the ice in the Stars defensive zone worn out in the second and third periods, with the ice in the Stars offensive zone barely touched.
They survived, really.
"So far in the playoffs, we haven't been a good team with a three-goal lead," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Even with a four-goal lead, we weren't a good team. We're a team that's still learning. And a lot of players it's their first kick at this. I think we'll be better in Game 7, we'll be better again. We played a good first 20 minutes, we didn't play a very good last 40."
It doesn't matter now. All that matters is the 3-2 win, the fingernails clinging to the ledge, the hoist up by Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen in the final minute, the one more game assured.
Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Lehtonen's late saves ensure Stars' win
The Stars could have folded in this game, allowing the Blues to lock up the series, avoid a second straight Game 7, and play in their first Conference Final in 15 years. Instead, nothing is decided, and everything is up in the air, other than the fact that there is a Game 7 confirmed at American Airlines Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN).
"You know it's going to come down to the wire when you get up like that," said Stars center Jason Spezza, who scored the winning goal on the power play. "You'd like it not to, but they have nothing to lose. They're sending five guys. We've been through it now with Minnesota, but I think we did a good job of hunkering down. You need your goalie to make saves and he did for us."
He did because he had to.
Video: DAL@STL, Gm6: Spezza finishes toe drag for PPG
"When someone learns how to defend a team charging like that, let me know," Stars defenseman Alex Goligoski said. "Doesn't seem like anyone's figured it out yet."
The Stars might not have, but they've made a habit of it in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Game 6 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild, they almost coughed up the series-deciding win, allowing the Wild to score three consecutive goals after going up 4-0.
The Stars survived that one, too. And they survived the disappointment that followed after the Blues won Game 5 in Dallas on Saturday. They played better in Game 5 and lost. They played worse in Game 6 and won. Such is hockey. Such is playoff hockey.
The Stars came through on Monday, even though the Blues believed in themselves so deeply that, as St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said, "I think when we made it 3-2, we thought we were going to win the hockey game. There wasn't a guy on the bench that didn't think we were going to win the hockey game."
But they didn't win the hockey game, the Stars did. That means they can think about Game 7, winning the series and what this means for them as a team.
"We still have to win two in a row, which we have not been able to do in this series," Lehtonen said. "That's something that's our goal. It's still alive so we just need to relax now and get ready for the next one."
Video: DAL@STL, Gm 6: Janmark, Fiddler score two quick goals
They knew, as he said, that there was no tomorrow if they lost.
"We were playing for our lives tonight," Spezza said. "So we came out and we were good to start, we were assertive. We didn't want to go home today."
Technically, the Stars are going home, for a Game 7 that was all they ultimately wanted out of Monday. They're headed home with more knowledge about themselves, their resilience and ability to hang on. And some less positive knowledge, too.
"I already said we're not a good team with a three or four-goal lead. So we'll try to keep it closer," Ruff said.
More lessons. More hockey. It's on to Game 7.