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Emotion of Stars, Blues is what makes playoffs special

The battle for the Stanley Cup is one filled with anger and joy - and both teams checked those boxes in Game 4

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a weird unexplainable mix of illogical results that often drive common sports fans crazy.

The Lightning get swept with the best record in hockey? We just shrug and move forward. The Hurricanes end a drought of nine straight seasons without a playoff berth and now are one game away from the Eastern Conference Final? Well, yeah, but they got better. A 25-year-old rookie goalie saves the season for the Blues? OK, but Matt Murray and Cam Ward have done the same thing in the past.

It's maddening, I think, for those who don't watch on a regular basis when they hear that an expansion team went to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

But if the lottery-like results of a professional sports league are a bit flaky, hockey does come back with a heck of an ace card -- emotion.

The battle for Lord Stanley's chalice is one fraught with anger and joy and machismo and petulance and truculence … and the Stars and the Blues showed pretty much all of that Wednesday at American Airlines Center.

Video: STL@DAL, Gm4: Benn on defeating the Blues in Game 4

Behind a 4-2 Dallas win that evened up the best-of-seven series at 2-2 was desperation and frustration -- and just a little bit of belligerence. And the result for fans was fun.

Yes, there were highlight goals on both side. Yes, there were some awesome saves and strategic tweaks. Yes, there was athletic beauty.

But just as important was the fact that both sides exchanged emotional jabs like Muhammed Ali and George Foreman.

David Perron slashed Ben Bishop in the back, and Bishop went down like a sack of potatoes. Jamie Benn got in the face of Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, and the rookie backstop not only was whistled for roughing Benn, but then got called for slashing Bishop as they skated off to their dressing rooms for the second intermission.

Asked what happened, Blues coach Craig Berube said: "Binnington said he didn't do anything. … I didn't get an explanation."

Video: Bogorad, Razor on Stars' Game 4 win to tie series

Binnington said when asked about slashing Bishop (a pretty rare goalie-on-goalie penalty): "I was just skating off and emotions were high."

Perron said of the slash (that was not penalized): "Yeah, I was reaching, trying to prevent him from playing (the puck). I don't know, he's 6-6, so he's a big guy."

Of course, Benn skated toward Binnington at the end of the period and received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and Bishop wasn't making any extra effort to avoid Binnington as each headed off. It was a subtle dance of incredibly intelligent mind games -- and possibly careless taunting.

"There's nothing really to comment about," Benn said with a smile. "Just a bunch of grown men being donkeys out there."

And that is why we love the sport so much, because there is humor in all of the seriousness.

Video: Montgomery on Stars' 'desperation' in Game 4 triumph

There are fans in two cities who have never met and hate each other today. There are players who are friends or former teammates that won't be sharing a latte over the summer. There are coaches and general managers who have very different opinions of what just happened.

And we still potentially have three more games to go.

Of course, all of this emotion means something, because it will have a great deal to do with who advances. In a season where this treasured piece of hardware is literally up for grabs, the team that both finds emotion and manages emotion has the best chance of winning.

"They were desperate, and we didn't match that desperation in the first two periods," Berube said of the Stars.

Montgomery said the same thing about the Blues in Game 3, and admitted that desperation is going to be a huge component in this series.

Video: Bishop discusses physical Game 4 win over Blues

"It's easier to have desperation or more desire and passion when you're behind," Montgomery said. "I thought in the first game of the series that we out-executed them, but they had more effort. Then it switched, and they out executed, but we had more effort. Then they were the better 5-on-5 team (in Game 3), and tonight we switched it."

It wasn't an easy switch.

The Blues scored first, so Dallas had to dig in. It was the first time in nine meetings between the Stars and Blues this season that there was a lead change. That's right, in the past, a 1-0 lead would have meant a Blues win. On this occasion, Dallas found a way to overcome.

"That's as perfect as you can get as far as responding from a tough loss the previous game," said Stars forward Andrew Cogliano. "Now, we get it tied, and we put ourselves in a better spot. And now we got to keep pushing like we did tonight."

Of course, there also were line tweaks that worked perfectly, and special team's adjustments that resulted in power-play goals, and big saves and big misses. Those things are pretty important in hockey.

Video: Seguin breaks down his effort in Game 4 with Razor

But at the core of all of this is emotion.

Sometimes, it's fake emotion created to needle the other team. Sometimes, it's real emotion drawn by an official's decision or an opponent's reaction. Sometimes, it's just the whole boiling pot of waiting your whole life to play in a kid's game that seems as important as anything you will ever do.

"It's a competitive game and there's a lot of guys fighting for a little bit of space, and it gets a little heated sometimes," said Stars forward Jason Dickinson. "It's just a matter of finding that desperation within yourself. We want to win, everybody wants to win, so we're going to find that extra level when we have to.

"The teams that win are usually the teams that find that desperation."

Especially when the series is tied.

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.

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