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Crunch Time: Stars confident as they face must-win Game 6

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

Stars coach Lindy Ruff said his team has been good when backed into a corner this season. But they haven’t been backed into a corner this tight. The Stars season will be on the line Monday night in St. Louis when they take on the Blues in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series, trailing 3-2 and needing a win to force a seventh game in Dallas.

“Once you get backed into a corner it brings out the best of you in a lot of ways,” said Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya. “It’s always talked about where if you are on the other side, winning that fourth game is the toughest. I think we felt that the last series too. For us, we are looking at winning one game. That’s the mindset we approach every game in the playoffs, but it becomes even more important now.”

“Our backs are against the wall, so I imagine we’re going to bring our best game,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “We still have a lot of confidence. You’re going to be in situations where you’re down in a series, and we are now. We just got to come out with our best effort tomorrow.”

The Stars thought they brought a good effort in Saturday’s game at American Airlines Center. It was a 4-1 loss, but the Stars saw a lot of good things in their play, but their ability to finish on chances was another story.

“It’s not even close to a 4-1 loss. We pretty well played close to our best game, we just didn’t finish,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “Made a couple mistakes where they got a couple great bounces. There’s some puck luck in the game, and they had all the puck luck. We had crossbar and a post, and we missed probably three or four point-blankers that you’d want to have back. But when it comes to the structure and cleaning up some of the rush situations, we played the strongest game defensively and still had the number of chances we’d want to win a hockey game.”

But getting pucks in the net has been an issue throughout the series for the Stars, who have scored ten goals in the five games.

“I think right now it’s about a goaltender that has played very well. Especially in the third period [Saturday], made two or three really good saves,” Ruff said. “Some if it is puck luck, when they’re bouncing around or going through his legs. You can look at their last series (against Chicago) where a shot that had beat him hit both posts and stays out. Our job is to create traffic, create the second opportunities, stuff that’s tough on him. We had some of those. We’re going to have to create a few more.”

Blues goaltender Brian Elliott has a 1.92 goals-against average and .937 save percentage through the first five games of the series.

“Make life a little bit tougher on him, get a little bit more gritty,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “Most of the goals are going to be off rebounds than off shots. He’s going to make the first save, we know that, he’s a good goalie, and it’s what we do after that.”

But the number one goal for Monday is just find a way to win and get the series back to Dallas for a Game 7.

“We just got to try to win a game,” said Spezza. “It’s really just a mindset of knowing that we have to win a game and bring our best effort we’ve had so far in the playoffs.”

Stars forward Patrick Eaves, who has missed the past four games with a leg injury, traveled with the team to St. Louis for Game 6. It’s still not known if Eaves will play. He’s been out since he was hit with a shot in the lower leg in Game 1 against the Blues.

Tyler Seguin did not travel with the team. He’s been out since the second game of the first-round series against Minnesota with a lower body injury.

Stars captain Jamie Benn and coach Lindy Ruff are more focused on the playoffs than the recent honors they’ve received.

Benn is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the league MVP, and a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, which goes to the league’s outstanding player as voted by players.

“It’s a great honor, but right now they don’t really mean much,” Benn said. “I am focused on [the Stanley Cup], this next game and what we have to do to win and extend the series and bring it back home. It’s definitely a cool honor for sure.”

Ruff is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which goes to the NHL’s coach of the year.

“I’m in the same category as Jamie when it comes to that. I’ll trade it for tomorrow’s game,” Ruff said. “I look at it that I’ve had a staff that has worked extremely hard from our video coach [Kelly Forbes] or goalie coach [Jeff Reese] to James [Patrick] to Curt [Fraser], those guys put in tremendous hours and do a lot of work with the players. Those individual meetings that they go through and myself and day after day going through challenging each other to be better, those guys have helped put me in the company I’m in to be nominated with those other guys, it’s nice. But I’d still trade it for tomorrow.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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