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Stars might need all-hands-on-deck effort to take down Blues

Dallas must find the right balance between team and exceptional individual performances in Game 2

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- We have learned in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs that one or two plays can change a game, and consequently, a series.

That's what happened Thursday at Enterprise Arena. The St. Louis Blues received a couple of huge goals from their top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko and a few saves from their rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, and that was enough to secure a 3-2 win in Game 1 of their best-of-seven, second-round series with the Stars.

It was that simple.

Dallas played well at times, pushed the Blues hard at the end, and simply didn't get the big plays it needed.

"It's going to be a chess match for the whole series. We had our pushes, they had their's," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "There are going to be momentum swings throughout the game, they got the first one. It's going to go back and forth throughout the series."

The drama played out pretty quickly, but then lingered on throughout the contest -- showing just how evenly matched these two teams are. Dallas dominated the first five minutes, had a couple of good scoring chances and 5-0 lead in shots on goal, and then watched as Robby Fabbri scored on the Blues' first chance.

Fabbri slipped down the right wing and snapped a shot between Ben Bishop's pads for a 1-0 lead 5:57 into the game.

Video: Bogorad, Razor discuss Stars' Game 1 loss to Blues

The score stayed that way for 25 minutes, and just as they did in the first round, the Stars answered with patience. John Klingberg flew into the offensive zone and found an open Jason Spezza for a one-timer midway through the second period to tie the game.

"I think it's two really solid defensive teams that create off getting pucks in deep," Spezza said. "The game kind of looked like we felt like it was going to look like."

In fact, it looked exactly like that, until the Blues' big player stepped up. Tarasenko is historically one of the top goal scorers in the league, and also a player who has hurt the Stars in the past, but he did something exceptional in Game 1. As he was flying down the right wing, he saw Roman Polak on defense and decided he could rush around the big, veteran defenseman. He did just that, and while he didn't score, Tarasenko clearly found his legs.

"The way he can change his speed … he can read D so well and catch them off balance or catch them mid-step," said linemate Ryan O'Reilly. "He just finds a way to position himself. He's such a threat, because of his shot. He can release it at any point, so for a D, they try to get tight to him and then he sucks them in and beats them wide. It's impressive."

Tarasenko followed that foiled chance with another run to the net that netted Polak a hooking penalty. Tarasenko then scored on the ensuing power play to give the Blues a 2-1 lead. Then, early in the third period, Tarasenko flew around Miro Heiskanen (maybe the Stars' fastest skater) and roofed a shot past Bishop that turned out to be the game-winning goal.

It was a fantastic play that shocked a Stars team that was making a comeback.

"He's an elite player. He's an elite goal scorer. He did it to us in St. Louis earlier in the year," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said. "I do think that's an area where we need to get better, is being harder on their best players."

Video: Montgomery breaks down what he saw in Game 1

Because one or two plays can change a game -- or a series. The Stars tried hard to come back and got a late goal from Benn to cut the deficit to one. In the process, Dallas players saw they could control the puck, they could get to Binnington, and they could create problems for the Blues, as well.

"I thought we penetrated middle ice well, I thought we had depth to our attack," Montgomery said. "They did a good job of blocking shots and getting some sticks on some passes, but for the most part, we were better offensively than I expected in Game 1, and we have to continue to get better, because tonight wasn't good enough."

That's where all of this playoff stuff gets tricky. You typically need to be the better team to win a series, but you also need to get the key plays. It's a lesson the Stars learned on Thursday.

"It's going to be a lot like that the rest of the way," Bishop said. "Both teams like to play a strong team game, it's going to come down to who can capitalize on the chances and make the big saves. Tonight it didn't happen. It's one game, so get ready for Game 2."

A game in which the Stars believe they will have more answers.

"I thought our process was good, I thought our execution was good," said Montgomery. "I think our effort can be better."

Both combined and individually.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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