The Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are the latest to join the list of playoff casualties. Their early exits from the postseason makes them fodder for offseason trade and free-agent speculation.
Shaky goaltending was the prime culprit in the Stars’ departure. The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi entered the playoffs with the worst combined regular-season goals-against average (2.78). They finished with a bloated combined GAA of 3.23.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance recommends the Stars upgrade between the pipes, but that won’t be easy. The Stars have over $10 million invested in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18. Niemi carries a full no-trade for 2016-17 while Lehtonen holds a partial NTC.
Should GM Jim Nill trade or buy out Lehtonen or Niemi, the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika lists Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators as free-agent options. He also suggests Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks as trade targets. Read more
It was “Wow” and “It figures” rolled into one. Game 7 of the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars’ Central Division final matchup was surprising and unsurprising.
The Stars, eating a 6-1 drubbing at home after winning Game 6 on the road? Hm. Not sure anyone saw such a lopsided defeat coming. But the way they lost summed up their season, as a festering problem never got resolved. It came down to goaltending.
Kari Lehtonen was a nightmare in Game 7, allowing three goals on eight shots. One game earlier, he was sensational, stopping 35 of 37 Blues attempts and almost singlehandedly extending the series. Lehtonen appeared in 11 playoff games, posting a save percentage of .946 or higher in four and an SP below .900 in six. He got pulled mid-game twice.
Antti Niemi entered Wednesday’s Game 7 in relief after the first period and wasn’t much better, allowing two goals on 10 shots. He, too, was inconsistent in the post-season, posing a .933 SP or better twice and sitting below .800 in his three other appearances, two of which came in relief.
No one should act overly shocked to learn the Stars’ goaltending undid them when it mattered in the post-season. General manager Jim Nill believed it was prudent to spell Kari Lehtonen because of Dallas’ brutal travel schedule and committed a $4.5-million cap hit last summer for three years of Niemi’s services. Coupled with Lehtonen’s $5,9-million AAV, that meant a $10.2-million commitment for two goalies who weren’t top-15 commodities in the NHL. Lehtonen and Niemi ranked 38th and 40th in 2015-16 with SPs of .906 and .905, respectively. Among the 49 goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played 5-on-5 this year, Lehtonen was 47th, Niemi 29th. Poor regular-season play translated into unreliable post-season play in the end, and coach Lindy Ruff’s occasional wavering between starters from game to game couldn’t have helped either netminder’s confidence.
The difference between the Blues and Stars in Game 7? It was goaltending. St. Louis netminder Brian Elliott was outstanding and the Stars’ duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi left much to be desired.
On 19 shots, the pair of Stars netminders team up to turn aside only 13, as the Blues walked to a decisive 6-1 Game 7 victory. And on a night both goaltenders were subpar, of course it was the worst goal either allowed that ended up going down in the record books as the game-winning goal.
Late in the first period, Paul Stastny found himself at the side of the Stars’ net with no one covering him. Stastny took a short pass from Troy Brouwer, and the Blues center simply turned and fired the puck on goal, where Lehtonen was up against the post and seemingly sealing off any holes. And it was only seemingly, because Stastny’s shot somehow got through Lehtonen to put the Blues up 2-0 late in the opening period: Read more
Robby Fabbri almost didn’t make the St. Louis Blues this season. And he was almost a healthy scratch in the first round of the playoffs. Seems crazy right about now, doesn’t it?
Regardless of which team wins tomorrow night’s Game 7 between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, Fabbri will be the youngest player in the conference finals. He might also be the most unlikely, the most fun to watch, the most determined and the most involved. And if he keeps this up, he might just be a Stanley Cup champion, the top scorer in the playoffs and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when it’s all said and done.
The Stars’ season is on the line Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues, but even with Tyler Seguin once again taking part in practice, Dallas is going to have to try to keep their playoff run alive without the star winger.
Seguin has missed all but one of the Stars’ 22 games — his only reprieve from injury coming in Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild on April 16 — but Dallas got some seemingly great news when the 24-year-old took part in Tuesday’s skate. However, following practice, Stars coach Lindy Ruff delivered the bad news. While Seguin is able to take part in practice and has been “ramping up” his skating, according to Ruff, he’s not quite ready for game action. And that includes Game 7.
“He’s not available to play right now,” Ruff said Tuesday. “I’m not going to try to deceive you at all. He’s not ready to play yet. He’s just hit his next step on the way back again. He’s closer than he was a couple days ago.” Read more
The Stars held off the St. Louis Blues in Monday’s Game 6 to push their second-round series to a seventh and deciding game, and Dallas did so without the services of veteran winger Travis Moen.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff addressed Moen’s absence from the lineup following Game 6, and the outlook didn’t sound good for the 34-year-old winger. Ruff said Moen won’t be available for Game 7 on Wednesday night, and even if the Stars take the seventh game and move on to the Western Conference final, Ruff said Moen won’t be back.
“He got injured in the game at home,” Ruff said. “He’s done for the playoffs.” Read more
It didn’t feel like the St. Blues lost Game 6 at home to the Dallas Stars. Especially if you missed the first period, when the Stars exploded for three goals. After falling behind 3-0, St. Louis outshot Dallas 37-14. The last 40 minutes looked like a Blues power play. They scored twice and posted a 5-on-5 Corsi edge of 75-25.
But guess what? The Blues still lost. They couldn’t find the tying goal, not even when Jaden Schwartz got a 10-bell chance in the dying moments, which Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen turned away with an epic pad save. St. Louis looked like the better team for much of Game 6, but it wasn’t enough. Now the Blues head back to Dallas for Game 7 with the possibility of Stars sniper Tyler Seguin returning from his Achilles injury.
And two questions linger.
Well, that didn’t quite go as planned for the St. Louis Blues. The stage was set for a Game 6 triumph against the Dallas Stars. The Blues were at home, up 3-2 in the series and on the brink of advancing to their first Western Conference final since 2001.
But Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, who had a .932 save percentage in the 2016 post-season before Monday, was not himself. He fought the puck early and simply couldn’t make a save.
Left winger Mattias Janmark struck with a seemingly harmless wrist shot 4:53 into the first period: