Much to the surprise of many, the St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars matchup is now locked in place. With first-round victories, both in six games, over the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators respectively, the two Central Division teams will look to stay hot in round two.
The two teams last faced off in the playoffs back in 2016, with the Blues winning in a very tough seven-game series. Since then, both rosters have experienced plenty of change, so much so that it is tough to draw conclusions from the 2016 matchup. Instead, the key factors heading into the series stem from the success that both teams saw in the first round. With that in mind, here are some of the factors that could be essential in deciding the outcome in the St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars second-round matchup:
Series Preview: St. Louis Blues vs Dallas Stars
Battle Between the Pipes
Both the Stars and the Blues goaltenders played a major role in the teams’ second-round entries. Ben Bishop and Jordan Binnington both stole games for their team when needed and outplayed their counterparts in Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck.
Finishing with a 2.63 GAA and a .908 SV%, Binnington’s overall numbers against the Jets appear quite average thanks to allowing six goals-against in Game 3. In the other five games, Binnington was strong, allowing only 10 goals on 144 shots (good for a save percentage of roughly .930%.)
During the regular season, Binnington’s rookie campaign numbers were historically impressive. He managed to lead the league with a goals-against average of 1.89. He also ranked in the top-five with a save percentage of .927. These numbers were enough to propel the Blues from the last place in the league to third place in the Central Division.
Many questioned the sample size (32 games) of his success and felt as though the playoffs would be a true test to his abilities. He seemingly had no trouble with the added pressure of the post-season, though. As mentioned in the St. Louis Blues first-round recap, Binnington was consistently praised for his reliability against the Jets. If he is able to help the Blues advance through another tough round, he may finally get the praise he deserves.
Bishop’s .945 SV% and 1.89 GAA are both second league-wide during the playoffs, trailing only New York Islanders netminder Robin Lehner in both categories. His stellar play through the first round should surprise few given the regular season campaign he had. With a sparkling .934 SV% and a 1.98 GAA to go along with seven shutouts in 46 regular season appearances, Bishop finished top three leaguewide in each of these categories. He showed he was clearly able to maintain this consistency through the first round. Now, he’ll be tasked to keep it up even longer against the team that drafted him.
Star Power of Dallas Top Line
The Stars trio of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov have ranked amongst the league’s best lines over the past two seasons. Their first-round success against a defensively strong Preds team only helped strengthen their case for the best line in hockey.
Combining for a total of 18 points over the span of 6 games, each linemate has scored at a point-per-game pace so far this post-season. With 16 of their 18 points coming at even strength, the trio was clearly the difference against Nashville. If they can replicate this level of production in round two, they’ll be a very dangerous threat.
Conversely, if the Blues are able to manage the impact Dallas’ big guns have on the series they should have the advantage in the depth department. Deploying Selke Trophy finalist Ryan O’Reilly against the Seguin line should help accomplish this while giving an opportunity to players such as Jaden Schwartz and Tyler Bozak to continue the first round success they had against weaker matchups. The Blues second line has seen a recent burst of success, with Schwartz recording four goals in the last two games against the Jets. While St. Louis top-line hasn’t produced nearly as much as the prolific Stars line, their depth could be a difficult group to corral if they can stay hot.
Special Teams Battle
As mentioned in the Dallas Stars first-round series recap, the winner of the special team’s matchup has a huge advantage. Neither team’s powerplay numbers from round one jump off the page, with Dallas going 4/22, while the Blues were 5/19 against Winnipeg.
Where the two are truly separated on special teams to this point is on the penalty kill. In six games against Nashville, the Stars penalty kill was a perfect 15/15, while St. Louis killed off 11 of the 14 powerplays against the Jets.
With the dominance of the Seguin line at 5v5 previously mentioned, the Blues need to find an edge on special teams to help negate the Stars top trio at even strength. If Dallas’ PK continues to be nearly as prolific as it was against the Preds, they have a great probability of advancing to the conference final. This would only be compounded if the Stars power-play is able to shape up a bit. The Blues penalty-kill has been strong but Binnington has been a big reason for that. This gives Dallas a golden chance to dissect a possibly volatile Blues penalty-kill.
Both teams head into the second round having won their previous two games. Both teams have gotten strong goaltending down the stretch.
Dallas has a slight advantage in the crease, with Bishop’s post-season numbers better than the impressive young Binnington’s. Overall, Dallas red-hot penalty kill and the steady production of their top line should make them slight favorites heading into game one.
Stars in 7 games.