By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The puck will finally drop for the Blues and Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Western Conference second round today at 8:45 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
And when the puck does drop, expect the Blues' shutdown defensive pair of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester to be seeing a lot of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov quite a bit.
The Stars' top line combined for 18 points (each with six) in their six-game series win in the first round against the Nashville Predators.
Parayko and Bouwmeester saw quite a bit of Winnipeg's top line of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor, and that line accounted for 15 points against the Blues but none in the deciding Games 5 and 6, games the Blues won and took the series in six.
"I think they're all obviously offensive threats," Parayko said. "They use behind the net well and find each other up front, but these guys battle really hard and they work extremely hard for the puck. They're heavy, they're all big guys that go to the corners well and strip the puck from you. You've just got to make sure you know when they're on the ice and know where they are. Whenever you're facing the top line in this league, everyone's dangerous and deadly. One of the biggest things that makes them so good is they work hard. They're always on the puck and they keep hounding and hounding. That's what helps them the most."
Benn especially, who has 39 points in 39 regular-season games against the Blues, and he had five goals in the last two regular-season games against St. Louis.
"He's a nemesis for sure," Parayko said.
"It's a very good line. It's big and they can skate," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "They're like power forwards out there. We've got to do a good job against that line, definitely. If you look against Nashville, the points they produced in that series were important. You can look at it that way, it's different players, but it's a real good line like the Scheifele line."
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David Perron's move to left wing this season is new here but not new to him.
Perron, who played primarily right wing all season long and into the playoff series against the Jets, was moved to the left side with Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko when Berube slipped Brayden Schenn back down to the second line at center.
Perron said it was a bit of a adjustment moving back to the left, where he played the entire season in 2017-18 with Vegas and put up career numbers with 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists).
"I played right all year. It was my first game on the left (Saturday)," he said. "I actually thought I struggled in some situations that maybe no one noticed, but I noticed because the way you handle pucks off the breakouts, the way you find plays are a little bit different. Even for having like a left center to pass to you on your strong side going down the zone, it's nice too, but it is what it is. Last year in Vegas, I played left wing all year and if you would have asked me in October, I would have chose left, so it is what it is right now and I think I'll be better for sure in those little situations next game just being used that way again."
It's Perron's off wing, so O'Reilly, who played with Perron earlier in the season but having Perron on the right side, feels it will come quickly.
"Oh yeah, obviously he’s an elite player and we’ve had success before," O'Reilly said. "I think it’s nice having the right-handed shot there with two lefties. With the way he creates, I think it makes us for those one-timers it makes us very aggressive and dangerous.
"... I think as a center, I just have to communicate more. I think if I’m communicating with my play and being underneath him and talking to him, that helps a lot, it gives him more time. When you’re on your offside, it’s a different protecting the puck, especially in the d-zone when the pucks are coming up there. It’s not as comfortable when you have to protect the puck different, so if I’m talking to him it should be able to give him some support. I thought offensively last game I thought we did a lot of good things. I thought we had plenty of chances and it’s something we’ve got to keep building."
The switch for Berube was pretty easy. He knew of Perron's play on his off wing and didn't hesitate making the change.
"He played the whole season last year in Vegas on the left," Berube said. "I think he had a career year point-wise. I didn't have any hesitation. I talked to him about it before, earlier on in the year and stuff about it, going to the left. He has no issue either way, I don't think."
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Special teams could play a big role in the series.
The Blues are fourth in the playoffs at 26.3 percent, converting on five of 19 attempts against the Jets, while the Stars' penalty kill was a perfect 15-for-15 against the Predators in the first round.
It goes with the mantra of the Stars' ability to blanket teams and not allow much.
"Yeah, obviously we stressed on it, power play, we’ve got to be sharp," O'Reilly said. "It’s a good PK, it’s a confident PK right now and they’re going to come. We have to be on our toes and when we have our chances, when we have our opportunities to shoot the puck, we’ve got to shoot the puck and really try to break them down that way.
"I think (in the first round), it was just being that mentality of when the opportunity comes to shoot. Taking the good shot and going from there. When we can do that and have that mentality, that everyone knows it’s going to the net, it makes our recoveries that much quicker. We know we can respond and having the extra guy, that’s when things start to open up."
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It's a bit of a happy homecoming for Stars goalie Ben Bishop, who grew up in the Des Peres, Mo. despite being born in Denver.
Bishop considers himself a St. Louis native and will have quite the following here and throughout the series. He grew up a Blues fan, was drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2005 NHL Draft.
"It's always nice to come home," Bishop said. "Obviously St. Louis is a great city, a lot of great memories and it's nice coming home. At the same time, it's a business trip. Just focus on Game 1 right now, that's all my focus is.
Bishop didn't get the chance to hang with family last night, and has family and friends torn on who to root for.
"No, we had a team meal and meetings," he said. "This isn't going to be like one of those other trips home, it's going to be a little more business and just focus on hockey.
"I've got a lot of text messages saying they didn't know what to do. But like I said, it's just another game. Treat them all the same, whether it's preseason game, Stanley Cup final game, round two. Just treat them the same. Go out there and do your thing."
Bishop spends a lot of his summer here in St. Louis and works with a number of Blues skaters during informal skates at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone, so he's gotten to know them well, as they've gotten to know him.
"I've skated with these guys quite a bit in the summer," Bishop said. "Whoever's in town. Different guys. I've skated with them the past 11 years.
"It does (help knowing Blues shooters). At the same time, they know me too."
Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist, comes into the series tied for second in the postseason in goals-against average (1.90) and is second in save percentage (.945). Coupled with his 1.98 GAA and league-leading .934 save percentage in the regular season, Bishop will be a tough beat in the series.
Bishop was only second to Blues goalie Jordan Binnington (1.89) in GAA during the regular season.
"This year, I've definitely felt good. I don't know why," Bishop said. "I definitely have felt really good this year. The team has done a tremendous job in front of Dobie and I and they make our jobs a little bit easier. One more year with this team, getting a little more familiarity and I can't pinpoint one thing but I feel pretty good about where my games at this whole entire year.
"[Binnington's] having an unbelievable year. You look what he's done to this organization and team and even the city, he's kind of put them on his back. He's doing a great job and he hasn't really had many slip ups since he got here, so he's doing a tremendous job and it's going to be important for us to try to find ways to get goals on him."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
David Perron-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Vince Dunn
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Michael Del Zotto, Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Jared Coreau. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Jason Dickinson-Roope Hintz-Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark-Justin Dowling-Jason Spezza
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun-Ben Lovejoy
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Anton Khudobin will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Valeri Nichushkin, Gavin Bayreuther, Joel Hanley, Brett Ritchie and Landon Bow. Jamie Oleksiak (lower body), Marc Methot (lower body), Martin Hanzal (back) and Stephen Johns (upper body) are all out.