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Blues lose their cool as desperate Stars tie playoff series

Blues lose their cool as desperate Stars tie playoff series

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DALLAS • The Blues couldn't take the fifth Wednesday in Dallas, so now this Western Conference semifinal series moves to a fifth game tied 2-2 — just like their Round 1 series against Winnipeg.

In search of a franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff road victory, the Blues instead lost an early lead, lost their cool, and lost the game 4-2 before 18,790 at American Airlines Center.

After an early power play goal by Vladimir Tarasenko, things went downhill quickly for the Blues. Dallas scored the game's next four goals to take a 4-1 lead after two periods, with the Blues clearly frustrated as the Stars' lead mounted.

That was clear as day in the final minute of the second period.

First, David Perron took an ill-advised whack at the back of Ben Bishop with about a minute left in the period as the Stars goalie was attempting to clear the puck from behind the net.

"I was reaching, trying to prevent him from playing," Perron said. "I don't know, he's 6-6, so he's a big guy."

It looked like the textbook definition of a slash, but no penalty was called, probably because Bishop reacted as if stuck with a cattle prod. It must be a Stars thing. (See: Esa Lindell, flopping.)

And just as the period ended, Binnington and Stars forward Jamie Benn got into it in front of the St. Louis net. Binnington got two minutes for roughing; Benn got two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“There’s nothing really to comment about," Benn said. "Just a bunch of grown men being donkeys out there.”

Included in this case of "men being donkeys" was Benn slashing Binnington in a very, uh, sensitive area — an area below the belt.

"Good eye," Binnington said, answering a reporter's question on the target area of the slash.

Binnington responded with a shove or two, hence the roughing penalty. Previously a picture of composure with the Blues, Binnington then got an additional two minutes for slashing Bishop before the teams left the ice at the end of the period, thus giving the Stars a power play at the start of the third period.

When asked if he did something to Bishop, Binnington replied: "No. Just skating off. Emotions were high, I came back in here and regrouped. It's playoff hockey."

Bishop saw things differently, saying Binnington gave him a whack.

“I wasn’t looking," Bishop said. "I didn’t even know that he was there. He just hit my stick.”

Interim coach Craig Berube said he didn't think his team lost its composure during this stretch.

There were plenty of dissenting views on that opinion.

"I thought they lost a bit of their emotional control," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said.

"Yeah, we've got to try and stay out of it," Perron said. "I think guys were just trying to get a spark maybe."

"I think we've got to be better for sure in that area," Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's something we talked about. I think we'll regroup here, we'll address that and move on."

Even so, the emotional fraying of the Blues didn't hurt them on the scoreboard.

The most telling sequence of the game actually occurred on a power play goal by Jason Spezza with just five seconds left on the penalty and only 51.8 seconds left in the first period.

"It's tough," Berube said. "I thought we did a good job killing that. The shot goes off 'Bo' (Jay Bouwmeester) and in. Yeah, it's tough, that's a tough one to give up for sure."

Binnington didn't leave much space, but also was screened with Bouwmeester right in front of him. Compounding matters was the fact that Tyler Bozak was in the box because of a dubious interference call — he stuck his rump out a bit in an apparent effort to impede a pursuing Dallas defender. Given the general mayhem of playoff hockey, is something like that merit blowing a whistle?

Berube said he was surprised at the Bozak call. "But again, things happen," he said. "I can't change it now."

Dallas didn't score in the third period, the Blues got a goal from rookie Robert Thomas — his first NHL playoff goal — with 6:16 to play against a stick-less Bishop. Less than two minutes later, O'Reilly came oh-so-close when he banged the puck off Bishop's pads from behind the goal and the puck bounced back towards the goal line.

Replays showed the puck might have crossed the goal line, but were inconclusive. There was no stoppage of play for a review by the NHL situation room in Toronto.

The Blues outshot Dallas 12-5 in the third, but too little, too late. Dallas took the play to the Blues for most of two periods.

"They came out with more urgency than we did," said O'Reilly, who had two assists. "Obviously it's good to get the first goal, but we didn't respond well. They played better than us when you look at the whole game. We had some good things at times but out consistency wasn't there."

On Wednesday morning, the Stars talked about how they needed to compete harder against the Blues. They mentioned how they needed to limit the Blues' cycling and puck possession behind the net. They vowed to be stout defending their own net front.

Dallas checked all those boxes Wednesday night. And just checked the Blues in general.

"They were desperate, and we didn't match that desperation in the first two periods," Berube said. "We did in the third and we played a good period."

As the series shifts to Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Friday, the Stars have to feel good about where they stand. For them, this has a familiar feel to it. In their opening round against Nashville, they were down 2-1 in the series, blitzed the Predators 5-1 in Game 4 at American Airlines and proceeded to win the next two contests to take the series 4-2.

"Yeah, this is exactly where we are supposed to be at this point," said Jason Dickinson, who scored the first Dallas goal. "We are supposed to be 2-2. You know, it's now a three-game series, we've got to go take of business there."

But the Blues pretty much feel the same way, because they're in the exact same spot as they were in Round 1. Only this time, they have home ice advantage if the series goes seven games.

"Yeah, it's a best-of-3 now," Binnington said. "We've been in this position before, so hopefully we handle it appropriately and just stick to our game."

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