DALLAS -- The second installment of a three-game series this month between the Blues and Dallas Stars goes today at 7:30 p.m. (FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM).
And after the Stars overcame a 2-0 deficit at Enterprise Center on Feb. 8 to pull out a 3-2 overtime win, it was their way of saying they have thrown their name in the hat for top spot in the Western Conference and Central Division.
The Blues (34-17-10), who bested the Arizona Coyotes 1-0 despite outshooting the 'Yotes 46-14 in a complete drubbing, except for Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta, who was a brick wall with 45 saves, lead the Stars (35-19-6) by two points and currently hold any tiebreaker in the NHL's new first tiebreaker, which is regulation wins, one the Blues own 27-24.
"They're a good team," Blues coach Craig Berube said of the Stars. "I've said this for a while that they're probably, I think, one of the better teams in the league for sure. They're deep. They can play a lot of different ways, great goaltending, good defense. They're a solid team all around. It's going to be a hard game."
The Blues, who will come into the game off back-to-back shutouts on home ice, including 3-0 against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, continue to build their game back to what makes them go: with solid goaltending, smothering defense and puck-possessing, forechecking offense.
"I didn't really see any moments in the game where we took off, to be honest with you," Berube said of Thursday's game, which he saw as close to a 60-minute game as possible. "'Binner' had to make some big saves, a couple breakdowns and they got some good speed and a couple partial breakaways and one breakaways. He was solid.
"(Controlling the puck) was the game plan. [Arizona] played [Thursday] night. They've got a real quick team, quick transition team, so we just talked about controlling the puck in the offensive zone, being patient with it, puck recoveries would be big against them just to limit their speed and their transition game, which we did a great job, everybody. Pretty good job tonight. That was the difference in the game. I would have liked to got a couple more goals, but goalies are hot right now."
The Blues felt like they had to be at a shooting gallery on Thursday, with Raanta repelling every puck coming his way.
"Raanta played really well," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "A lot of opportunities up front. Credit to that goalie. He played really well and gave the team a chance to win.
"... We've done a good job I think even starting in Nashville, we've played three good consecutive games. Obviously we didn't win in Nashville, but we got the last two. Just stick with the program and it will be good."
A win tonight can give the Blues a little bit of breathing room. With the Stars and Colorado Avalanche, three points behind the Blues with two games in hand, all fighting tooth and nail, the fight to the finish should be exciting.
The Blues and Stars will face off again at Enterprise Center on Feb. 29.
"We did a lot of things well tonight against a tired team and it’s going to be a different story tomorrow," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, whose goal at 12:00 of the third period was the lone goal Thursday. "It’s going to be much more physical and got to start focusing on that."
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The news from Berube pre-game made this one challenging task for the Blues.
Captain Alex Pietrangelo is sick and will not play, and Tyler Bozak sustained a lower-body injury in the win against Arizona and will be reevaluated on Saturday.
It means Robert Bortuzzo and Mackenzie MacEachern are in the lineup.
"We'll be fine," Berube said. "[Marco] Scandella in there, he can play lots of minutes, [Justin] Faulk can play lots of minutes, [Vince] Dunn's going to get lots of minutes. Bortuzzo's in there, does a great job every time he plays. We'll be OK. [Carl] Gunnarsson too."
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The Blues' past three games have identified that they can get back to limiting the opposition, but it's also left a flaw too: goal production is still lacking.
The Blues have outshot their past three opponents by a combined 124-55, and including two Jordan Binnington shutouts on 17 saves against the Devils Tuesday and 14 against the Coyotes on Thursday.
"It's getting to our game," Berube said. "Our mindset has changed, being tight defensively. With our forwards, our forwards are the key to it all. When they're reloading and tracking hard, our D are going to be tight, and they're good defenders, all of them. They've got good sticks and they defend well and they close on people. There's just no room."
Does that include all the forwards?
"Yes, everybody's working hard without the puck and puck pressure, reloading and things like that," Berube said. "That's crucial."
The breakdowns defensively have also been minimized.
"We’re paying pretty good attention to the details of the game and not so much worried about the outcome," O'Reilly said. "Kind of investing in the game the right way, the way we talk, the way we track, the little details. I think New Jersey, we caught them on their heels, and tonight, we caught them tired. We played the games the right way and that’s something we’ll continue to be consistent with."
Berube said that's been a topic of discussion.
"We try to talk about that quite a bit," Berube said. "Just focus on what we've got to do in game and not thinking about the outcome so much because you can get ahead of yourself, stay in the moment and focus on the process. We're doing a better job of that lately."
The Blues will certainly need to do that tonight. They'll be the team playing the second of a back-to-back, but the Stars were that team that came into Enterprise Center two weeks ago.
"You could tell we were on the same page [Thursday]," O'Reilly said. "We knew that we had to play up top, making sure we’re making the 'D' turn and that’s exactly what we did and we got the red line and we chipped it and we hounded it and got a lot of pucks back and that’s where our offense took over from there. That was a real good thing of our game, that’s more of our style that we have to be consistent with."
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Former Blues captain David Backes, who's spent the past three-plus seasons with the Boston Bruins, was traded on Friday morning to the Anaheim Ducks along with a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and defensive prospect Axel Andersson for forward Ondrej Kase.
Backes is in the fourth year of a five-year, $30 million contract after helping lead the Blues to the Western Conference Final in 2016; he last played Jan. 9, and has three points (one goal, two assists) in 16 games but rapidly fell down the Bruins totem pole, and eventually, out of the lineup.
The 35-year-old forward was waived by Boston on Jan. 17 before being assigned to Providence of the American Hockey League; he did not play because the Bruins felt it was not in his or their best interest for any potential injuries.
It's been reported that the Bruins will retain 25 percent of Backes' remaining salary in the deal.
Backes was selected by the Blues in the second round (No. 62) of the 2003 draft; he has 554 points (245 goals, 309 assists) in 944 regular-season games and 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 82 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
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The Blues did not hold a morning skate on Friday, but Berube confirmed Jake Allen will get the start in goal despite Binnington having a light load the past two games and coming off back-to-back shutouts.
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Brayden Schenn
Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Oskar Sundqvist-Jordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Sammy Blais
Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen is projected to start in goal; Jordan Binnington would be the backup.
Healthy scratch is Jacob de la Rose. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (cardiac episode) Alex Pietrangelo (sick) and Tyler Bozak (lower body) are out.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Roope Hintz-Tyler Seguin-Corey Perry
Jamie Benn-Jason Dickinson-Denis Gurianov
Andrew Cogliano-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark-Joe Pavelski-Alexander Radulov
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen-Stephen Johns
Jamie Oleksiak-Roman Polak
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Anton Khudobin will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Andrej Sekera and Taylor Fedun. Justin Dowling (lower body) is out.
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