There was no drama in Wednesday night’s Game 7 at American Airlines Center. The St. Louis Blues jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, blowing by the Stars, 6-1, to take the second-round playoff series, 4-3, and advance to the Western Conference Final.
“It’s not the ending you want,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “It’s a big disappointment.”
The loss was a tough way to end what had been an impressive 2015-16 season for the Stars, who finished with the best record in the Western Conference and won a playoff series for the first time since 2008. But the Stars felt there was more to accomplish.
“A lot of disappointment,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I think it’s so hard right now because we have a good team, and I believe we had a shot to win it this year, and we came up short.”
“We thought we had a chance to win this year, we really did,” said Stars center Jason Spezza. “And when you believe something like that, it is real. It’s disappointing when you lose. It’s disappointing because I thought we had a chance to win this year.”
But the Stars couldn’t get past the Blues, who scored on the power play 5:23 into the game and then added two more goals late in the first period to take a 3-0 lead. The Stars had their chances in the period when the game was still close, but couldn’t take advantage. The Stars struggled to score in the series, tallying 14 goals in seven games for an average of 2.0 per game.
“We had our opportunities, all series we had good opportunities to score and their goaltender made saves, and we missed some nets,” said Stars forward Patrick Sharp. “I give them credit, they won the series.”
It was a rough night for Dallas Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who lasted only one period after allowing three goals on eight shots.
“As a goalie you try to make every save. Today I wasn’t able to do that,” Lehtonen said. “Of course, I feel bad about that. That’s it.”
His teammates were quick to stand up for Lehtonen.
“I don’t think there was any issue [with Lehtonen],” Benn said. “Just maybe some tough plays by us. We wouldn’t be here without him, so I don’t think we can keep questioning his play tonight.”
Brian Elliott stopped 31 shots for the Blues. Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer each had one goal and two assists on the night. The Blues are headed to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. They’ll play either San Jose or Nashville.
“We know we’re one of the last four teams standing, and we’re halfway to our ultimate goal,” said Blues captain David Backes. “We have still some work to do, it’s a good feeling in this room right now, how we came out in Game 7, played a full 60 minutes.”
The Blues got the game’s first power play and cashed in to take a 1-0 lead. Brouwer put a shot on goal, and Fabbri scored during a scramble in front of the net at the 5:23 mark.
The Stars had chances to tie, but Valeri Nichushkin hit the post with an open side of the net and Elliott stopped a Spezza shot from the slot after an Alex Pietrangelo turnover.
“If you want to break down the individual scoring chances, Val has to put his in the back of the net,” Ruff said. “That’s not a play that you should end up with not having a goal on.”
The Stars had a power play opportunity as well, but couldn’t take advantage. They were 0-3 on the power play Wednesday and 2-20 in the series.
“Special teams are big in the playoffs,” said Spezza. “They score a power play goal to start the game and we don’t. It’s a factor in the outcome of the game.”
St. Louis appeared to take a 2-0 lead at 17:39 of the first when a Vladimir Tarasenko shot from a sharp angle deflected off Stars defenseman John Klingberg and past Lehtonen. But the Stars challenged the goal, saying the Blues entered the zone offside and won, negating the goal.
But less than a minute later Brouwer setup Stastny, who put a shot through Lehtonen from close range to make it 2-0 at the 18:22 mark. The Blues tacked on another goal with 3.4 seconds left in the first when Patrik Berglund scored from the point, and the Blues had a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Niemi took over for Lehtonen to start the second period. The Blues scored two more goals to extend their lead to 5-0. David Backes scored off the rush at the 3:50 mark and Brouwer finished off a pretty two-on-one rush at 15:06 of the second.
Patrick Eaves scored off a rebound at 5:15 of the third to cut the St. Louis lead to 5-1. Ruff pulled Niemi for an extra attacker with just under six minutes left and Tarasenko scored into the empty net to make it a 6-1 final.
*The Stars were 1-3 at home in the series with St. Louis.
*The Stars lost four of their final five home games during the playoffs.
*The Stars were 0-3 on the power play in the game and 1-2 on the penalty kill.
*The Stars were 2-20 (10.0 percent) on the power play in the series and 16-22 (72.7 percent) on the penalty kill.
*The Stars outshot the Blues 32-19 and had a 85-38 advantage in shot attempts.
*The Blues blocked 34 shots.
*The Stars won 34 of 57 faceoffs (60 percent).
*Cody Eakin won 13 of 17 faceoffs (76 percent). Colton Sceviour won 5 of 6 (83 percent). Jason Spezza won 6 of 12 (50 percent). Radek Faksa won 5 of 10 (50 percent).
*Alex Goligoski led the Stars with 25:16 of ice time.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Radek Faksa – Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour – Vernon Fiddler – Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Stephen Johns
Kris Russell – Jason Demers
Injured: Tyler Seguin (lower body), Travis Moen (hand)
Scratched: Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie, Jack Campbell, Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka, Brendan Ranford, Justin Dowling
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 DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.