Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
For the second straight round, the St. Louis Blues were unable to close out a series in six games and will play a Game 7. The difference is that game was at home in the first round when they defeated the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks 3-2. This time, they'll be at the Dallas Stars and hope to advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. The best-of-7 series is tied 3-3.
The Stars are the No. 1 seed and haven't won two rounds in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2008, when they made the conference final. The Central Division rivals were separated by two points in the standings, with the Stars clinching the division with a win in their final game of the regular season. The Blues have outscored the Stars 19-13 in the series, but none of that matters now.
Will it be the Blues or Stars advancing to the final four when they play at American Airlines Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports)?
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: St. Louis' game plan is typically structured in terms of how it wants to play. The last game notwithstanding, the Blues have gotten great goaltending all year. Brian Elliott allowed three goals on seven shots in the first period of Game 6 but has been awesome for them down the stretch. Without Elliott, the Blues are not in this position right now. Jake Allen, who stopped all seven shots he faced in relief in Game 6, has been just as good as Elliott this season.
With Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Kevin Shattenkirk, etc., the Blues have a deeper and bigger defense than the Stars. I believe they have one of the best defensive corps in the League.
Video: DAL@STL, Gm4: Pietrangelo hits Benn into the boards
Minuses: The Blues did not start Game 6 on time and that cannot happen again. Maybe they will feel less pressure being on the road.
It took the Blues three tries to close out the Blackhawks and they've already squandered one chance against the Stars. They're 1-3 in closeout games in the playoffs, which is concerning.
Lastly, there are times when the Blues attack and there are times when they sit back. They need to attack without being reckless. When you have defenders who can make plays in all three zones, and then you have forwards Vlamidir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri, David Backes and Jaden Schwartz, that's probably more of an offensive team than coach Ken Hitchcock gives them credit for, but they can't be that at the expensive of being structured. Elliott has faced more shots than any goalie in the playoffs, which is a concern if you are such a defensively structured team.
Pluses: They are playing at home and that's a huge advantage, especially in a Game 7. They need to attack offensively but can't be reckless. They can't take unnecessary penalties but must play to their strength, which is their speed, their tempo and their pace. They need that right from the puck drop. The Stars need the same start they had in Game 6, when they scored three goals in the first period.
Dallas needs goalie Kari Lehtonen to be as great as he was in Game 6. He made 35 saves, including 14 in each of the final two periods.
The biggest thing for the Stars is that they need to play the entire 60 minutes. If you look at the last game, they were outshot 28-7 after the first period. Lehtonen made that point blank save on Schwartz at the end of the game, or else the Stars' season could already be over. They limped to the final buzzer and you can't do that, especially not in a Game 7 with so much on the line.
Video: DAL@STL: Lehtonen's glove preserves one-goal lead
Minuses: Not having Tyler Seguin definitely hurts. He is a dynamic offensive talent with 33 goals and 40 assists in the regular season but hasn't played since Game 2 in the first round because of a lower-body injury. Seguin has missed 23 of the past 24 games, including the playoffs, and has been ruled out for Game 7.
The Stars did not play a complete game in Game 6. They won but held on and didn't dominate after scoring the first three goals of the game.
The Stars are not a defensively structured team, so that is going to force them to probably have to work a little bit harder on defense by using their speed that they usually use on offense.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Who will the Blues start in goal? Do they go with Elliott or Allen? And can Lehtonen play as well as he did last game for the Stars?
2. The start for both teams. A fast start will be important.
3. Who is more disciplined? Both teams can score on the power play. Special teams will be factor.