Adversity has been a big subject of discussion during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With lower seeds upsetting higher seeds, there's the feeling that teams that have been through adversity this season might have a leg up on teams that haven't. Look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Look at the Calgary Flames. They were felled by scrappy upstarts who had to fight their way through the 82-game jungle just to make it into the postseason.
So as the Stars and Blues hammer through a second-round series in which both teams have struggled at times, the ability to respond to adversity seems pretty well imprinted on a lot of minds on the ice.
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That never seemed more apparent than Monday at American Airlines Center, where the two went back and forth with four goals in the final seven minutes until St. Louis finished with a 4-3 win.
That gives the Blues a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, something that seemed pretty much impossible when the team was tied for last in wins on New Year's Day. Since then, St. Louis has gone 36-13-5 (playoffs included) and has learned a great deal about itself.
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"I think once we became the team that we became, we were a confident group," said Blues head coach Craig Berube, who took over in November and piloted the turnaround. "Just because a goal goes in, we stay with it and keep battling. That's where we're at now. It's mental. And like I talked about mental toughness all year with this group, we're a mentally tough team now."
The thing is, so are the Stars.
They had to overcome all sorts of adversity in returning to the playoffs, and that mental toughness showed in a first-round series win over the Nashville Predators. So they too know how to "stay with it" when a few hurdles are placed in their path.
"I think both teams really tried to make a difference out there today," said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. "It was a wild third period, but if we look at ourselves here, we showed some character coming back in the game two or three times. You just have to stay even keel. There are going to be ups and downs through this whole series, and they are a good team."
A good team that flexed both physical and mental muscles on Monday.
Video: Seguin says Stars were 'outworked' in Game 3 defeat
The Blues came up with some physical plays in front of the net, including on the game-winning goal by Pat Maroon with 1:38 left in regulation. Maroon shoved Esa Lindell out of the way, collected a loose puck and then roofed a hard-angle shot over Ben Bishop.
It was a gritty, gorgeous play that highlighted one of the Blues' toughest players.
"This time of year, those are the guys you really lean on and he stepped up to the plate," said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo. "He's been great for us."
Then again, the Blues are filled with players like that. Pietrangelo had a key goal, four blocked shots, and played 25:26. Jay Bouwmeester had two assists, was plus-3, and had eight blocked shots. Jaden Schwartz had a goal, an assist and six hits.
Nobody seems to be complaining about the lack of scoring from the Blues' top scorers in the past two games, because so many others have stepped up.
Video: Klingberg: Stars need to be better to close out games
"We're resilient," said Pietrangelo. "This group has a lot of character, and when you're using everybody, you don't know who the hero is going to be. Once again, tonight is not the way we drew up before the game, but we'll take it."
In a strange way, the ability to win games that don't go as you planned might be one of the biggest strengths of teams like the Stars and the Blues. Dallas wasn't the better team, but twice tied the score in the final seven minutes. They were hoping to bring a pulsating American Airlines Center to overtime, and came very close with that plan.
"This is what playoffs are all about. You put a lot into the game and there's times where you win them and you feel really good and there's times when you lose and it's a bad feeling," said Stars forward Andrew Cogliano, who scored a shorthanded goal.
"I thought, overall, they were the better team. And usually when it's close at the end -- we kept tying it -- but usually when the team that plays better for most of the night, they usually win."
And that, ironically, is both the product of battling adversity for the Blues -- and the product of future adversity for the Stars.
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St. Louis lost in Game 2 and responded with a strong effort. The Stars have lost in Game 3 and now must give a similar response in both effort, execution ... and mental toughness.
Not surprisingly, they feel they can do just that.
"They won more battles. They were a more desperate team, and we are going to respond," said center Tyler Seguin, who scored a goal and won 74 percent of his faceoffs. "We were here about a week-and-a-half ago and it's the same kind of story, so we are pretty excited to respond and take tomorrow to regroup and come back with a better effort."
The Stars lost Game 3 at home in the Nashville series to go down 2-1. They then had one of their best games of the season in a 5-1 win in Game 4. It was a response that was more than 82 games in the making. Now, Dallas has that experience to use in preparation for Wednesday.
"We always preach getting better in the series and we've got to continue to do that," Montgomery said. "It helped us last series, but we've got to do the work to get better."
Video: Bogorad, Razor recap Stars' wild Game 3 against Blues
Veteran defenseman Ben Lovejoy said the Stars understand what they need to do, but he added that understanding and doing it is a big difference.
"They're a good team. I thought they were a little bit smarter than us tonight," Lovejoy said. "This Dallas Stars team works really hard. Tonight, we weren't quite smart enough with how we did that. We didn't put ourselves in a position for that work to help us to succeed."
That's the fine line that makes the difference of moving on or going to the offseason. And like building muscles with weight lifting, your mental fortitude often is developed by overcoming adversity.
"They are a heck of a hockey team over there," Seguin said. "It's not going to be easy, but they have the advantage now and we have to come out and respond on home ice next game."
Or else they will see what real adversity is like with elimination lurking in St. Louis.
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.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.