The word desperation has been tossed around a lot in the series between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. Stars coach Jim Montgomery said his team needed more of it heading into Wednesday's Game 4 if they wanted to tie the series at 2-2.
When the Stars did that with a 4-2 win, Blues coach Craig Berube noted his team didn't match the Stars' desperation level in the game.
Now, it's onto the pivotal Game 5 of the series Friday night in St. Louis.
The winner of Game 5 tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven has gone onto win the series about 79 percent of the time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, expect the desperation level to be high Friday night (8:30 p.m. CT; NBCSN; KTCK).
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The Stars have talked about staying on an even keel during the playoffs, not getting too high after wins or too low after losses. They've responded well after losses, but after wins that desperation level hasn't been there at times.
"It's something that we've struggled with a bit since I've gotten here," said Stars defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "When we feel too good about ourselves we haven't been quite as good. I think it is something we'll talk about a good amount in the next day and a half. We need to come out and be ultra-desperate. We need to come out and play our best hockey, and we know the Blues will, too."
Video: Bogorad, Razor on Stars' Game 4 win to tie series
Montgomery said twice in the series with the Blues his team's play has dipped after a win. It wasn't as good coming off the series-clinching Game 6 win over Nashville and heading into Game 1 and then coming off the Game 2 win and into Game 3 in Dallas.
"We haven't talked about it, but the experience of going through it hardens you," Montgomery said. "Twice we haven't been as good after winning, so we have to be better this time."
And what was missing in those two games where the team's play dipped?
"Desperation and urgency in our game," Montgomery said. "[Wednesday] night, we came out and skated and competed and it was 'We are going to take this game.' That is not there after we've won."
Any advantage will be key in this series. Not much has separated the two teams. It's a series that deserves to be 2-2 through the first four games, and now it's down to a best-of-three.
"I think it's been a dead-even series. I think that's why this is a true 2-2 series," said Montgomery. "They've had moments where they've been the better team, and we've had moments where we've been the better team. And someone is going to prevail with the way they play the best."
Video: Stars win Game 4, even series with Blues
"We are very similar teams and very even teams," said Lovejoy. "We bring different elements to the game, but a lot of our strengths are their strengths too. We need to go out and win two more games."
The Stars and Blues both were tied 2-2 in their first-round series and won Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. The Stars won in Nashville after tying the series with a 5-1 win in Game 4 in Dallas. The Blues won in Winnipeg after dropping Games 3 and 4 at home.
The Stars felt play was tilting their way in the first-round series with the Predators, but this series has been back and forth, and now there is a chance for one team to take a step forward Friday.
"We can draw on that (Nashville) experience, but it's a completely different series because we are not surging ahead," said Montgomery. "It's a dead even series, and now we need to surge ahead. And that's where we need to find another level, and take charge. It would be nice to get the lead and see how St. Louis responds. They haven't been behind in a series all playoffs."
So, the battle for the advantage in the series commences with puck drop Friday night in St. Louis and at the end of the night -- or perhaps early in the morning -- one team will be one win away from moving on to the Conference Final.
The other will be on the brink of elimination.
Praise for Hanley after playoff debut
Montgomery praised Joel Hanley's play after Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Blues.
The 27-year-old defenseman made his NHL playoff debut in the game just two weeks after being recalled from the AHL to skate with the team's black aces. On Thursday, Montgomery again praised Hanley saying the plan was to play him eight minutes, but he ended up logging just under 13 because he earned the coaching staff's trust.
Hanley's defense partner in the game, Ben Lovejoy, heaped on more praise.
"He was awesome. He got the cowboy hat after the game," Lovejoy said. "That's a tough situation to come into. He has been a black ace for two weeks now. When you are a black ace, you are on summer vacation. You go to skate in the morning; you work hard for 45 minutes to an hour, and then you are sitting by the pool or on the golf course. I've done it before.
"For him to switch his brain into playoff hockey mode speaks volumes about him as a player and a person. He was an asset to our team last night. He was really good, and it was a pleasure to play with him."
Video: Hanley earns celebratory cowboy hat after Stars' win
Could Wednesday's chippiness carry over?
Montgomery was asked Thursday if some of the chippiness from Wednesday's game could carry over into Friday.
Blues forward David Perron slashed Ben Bishop, and then there was an altercation between Stars captain Jamie Benn and Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, who would then slash the stick of Bishop as players left the ice at the end of the second period.
"I expect there to still be gamesmanship," Montgomery said. "It seems like the goalies have become focal points of the series. Goalies usually are. They have clearly made it part of their game plan to get Ben Bishop off of his game, and I think with the way we had success last night, Binnington lost his cool a little last night."
For complete postseason coverage, visit Stars Playoff Central.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for DallasStars.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.