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Hockey

Rough road awaits Stars in St. Louis

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Posted: Sunday May 16, 1999 07:29 PM

  Michal Handzus (right) and the Blues face elimination for the second straight series. AP

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- If the Dallas Stars want to eliminate the St. Louis Blues from the NHL playoffs Monday night, they'll have to break a trend to do it.

The Stars, the NHL's top team in the regular season, lead the second-round series 3-2 heading into Game 6 and so far, in contrast to the rest of the NHL, the home team has won every game.

"It's been a homer series so far and we hope it stays that way," Blues left wing Geoff Courtnall said after the Stars' 3-1 victory Saturday night.

The Stars scored the game's first three goals in Game 5. Yet coach Ken Hitchcock didn't sound all that confident about the chances of finishing off the Blues, who finished 27 points behind them in the standings. St. Louis didn't quit, and could have cut the gap to a goal and set up an exciting finish with 57 seconds left, except that rookie Jochen Hecht's goal was erased because he was caught in the goalie crease when he scored.

"All I know is that if we are going to win the next game of the series, we will have to play a lot better for 60 minutes than we did tonight," Hitchcock said. "Once they got the momentum built up, we had a heck of a time stabilizing."

St. Louis lost its first two games at home in the opening round while falling behind 3-1, then rallied to eliminate Phoenix in seven games. Games 3 and 4 against the Stars were the Blues' first two sellouts of the postseason, and they responded with strong play.

Now, they're facing elimination for the fourth time in the playoffs.

"It's nothing new to us," defenseman Al MacInnis said. "We're not in bad shape. We're going home."

If he doesn't sound desperate, perhaps it's because the Blues are used to do-or-die situations. They've played an NHL-leading six overtimes in the playoffs, winning four times.

"Their fans are going to be energized again and they have been in this situation before," the Stars' Joe Nieuwendyk said. "They know what it is all about."

The keys to the Stars' victory in Game 5 were a strong game from goalie Ed Belfour, who had 30 saves, and overdue production from their power play. The Stars, who are 4-for-46 in the series, had two goals in five opportunities with the man advantage.

"It was nice to see some plays develop finally, and to finally get some goals," center Mike Modano said. "It was good tonight."

The Blues, on the other hand, were 0-for-4 on the power play.

"Special teams were the key to the game," MacInnis said. "We've got to get more traffic in front of Belfour. He's seeing everything really well right now."

St. Louis knows a strong start also is important. Jere Lehtinen opened the scoring in Game 5 with a shorthanded goal at 3:47 and Jamie Langenbrunner got a power-play goal midway through the period.

"It's important to get off on the right foot, and we go and dig ourselves another hole," coach Joel Quenneville said. "This is a big challenge against a top team."

 
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