DALLAS — The Blues were ripe for the picking Friday, and the Dallas Stars knew it.
They were down two Swedes in Oskar Sundqvist (injured reserve) and Carl Gunnarsson (sick bay), and on the tail end of an extra-tough three-game road swing. But it didn’t matter.
With Jake Allen in goal and two San Antonio callups making their Blues debut (Nathan Walker and Derrick Pouliot), the Blues clipped their Central Division rivals 3-1 at American Airlines Center.
“I thought it was an excellent game by us here tonight, coming in here,” coach Craig Berube said. “(The Stars) have been really on a roll the last 10, 11 games. We had a real good effort by everybody.”
Berube isn’t the easiest guy to please, and “excellent” is a word he rarely uses, so you know he had to be pleased with a night that included another strong effort by Jake Allen in goal, some of the Blues’ best defense and puck management of the season, and a game-winning goal by Ryan O’Reilly.
The Blues (16-5-6) thus finished off an arduous trip that included games against the defending Central champs (Nashville) and the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner (Tampa Bay) with five of a possible six points.
“That’s good,” O’Reilly said. “I think our mindset is we’re playing tomorrow (against Pittsburgh) — that’s what our mindset is. But yeah, five points out of six is definitely good.”
They are now 11-3-3 since Vladimir Tarasenko went down, followed by Alexander Steen, Sammy Blais and now Sundqvist. All of which are long-term injuries. But they keep winning. As you may recall, the Blues returned virtually their entire roster after their Stanley Cup season.
But they had four players on the ice who are new to the Blues roster over the last 20 days, three of whom came aboard over the last nine days. So far, it’s a testament to the Blues’ organizational depth.
“Our organization does a great job of finding players that can come up and do the job up here,” Berube said. “We got a deep farm team, whether it’s from drafting or free agent signings like Walker and Pouliot. They came up and filled in real nice.”
Dallas has been the league’s hottest team over the past five weeks with a 14-2-1 record entering Friday’s affair. But they’re now 0-2 this season against the Blues, the team which ousted them in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals last season.
O’Reilly picked a good time to end an eight-game goal drought, giving the Blues a 2-1 lead off a feed from Ivan Barbashev.
“Yeah absolutely,” O’Reilly said. “Obviously it’s been very frustrating not contributing offensively like I need to. But we’re finding ways to win hockey games.”
O’Reilly’s sixth goal of the season came with just 2:53 left to play and just 18 seconds after Roope Hintz had tied the game 1-1 by finishing off a 2-on-1 Dallas rush. The Blues didn’t really have time to worry about playing so well for nearly 57 minutes and then giving up a late tying goal.
“It’s tough, especially when you’re in an away building when they tie it with (three) minutes to go,” Colton Parayko said. “They’re gonna have some pressure obviously (after that), so you get a quick break like that and go up it’s huge for us. That’s just relentless and I think that’s kind of the way that we’ve been playing.”
For Barbashev, it was his fourth assist in two games. Barbashev then finished things off with an empty-net goal with 2.1 seconds to play.
“Barby’s on a roll right now making plays,” Berube said. “Hopefully he continues.”
This was typical Blues-Stars hockey. Not much scoring, and not much room to operate.
The Blues were locked in right from the outset. They were patient, didn’t force passes and were positionally sound. Defensively, they clogged up the lanes and got their sticks on all kinds of passes and shots.
They finished with a season-high 40 shots, and a season-high 75 shots attempts. (The latter totals include shots that are blocked or miss the net.)
“I just thought our whole game was really sound,” Allen said. “Our forwards were tracking back at the right times, getting fresh bodies on at the right times. It was really impressive.
“That second period, our (line) changes were unbelievable. We were just hemming them in the o-zone. That makes a difference. It’s the little things like that that a lot of people don’t notice but go a long way to win games.”
The Blues finally broke through with 4:19 left in the first, when Parayko sent an innocent-looking wrist shot from out near the blue line. With traffic in front of Bishop, including Zach Sanford, the puck got past Bishop. It was Parayko’s second goal of the season, with O’Reilly and David Perron getting assists.
For the Blues, it marked only the second time in nine games that they had scored the game’s first goal.
“Mainly just trying to throw it towards the net, try to create something,” Parayko said. “But there were a lot of bodies in front. It’s tough for goalies, especially if you can’t see me or see the puck coming at them.”
With 4:25 to play in the second period, there was Thunder from Down Under. Walker, the little Aussie, squeezed one in on Stars goalie Ben Bishop from behind the net. After a jubilant “celly” by Walker, Dallas coach Jim Montgomery challenged the play for offside.
Montgomery was right, and it was Walker who was offside. Cancel that celly, and cancel that goal. It remained 1-0 Blues.