Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues clash in another wild and unpredictable game, push series to the max

— -- ST. LOUIS -- The moment St. Louis Blues forward Patrik Berglund cut the lead to one nine minutes into the third period against the Dallas Stars, the Blues thought they had it.

"There wasn't a guy on the bench that didn't think we were going to win the hockey game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after his team's 3-2 loss to the Stars in Game 6.

They'd been coming on furiously for well over a period of action after the Stars jumped out to an early three-goal lead. And this is what these Blues do. They face adversity head on. They overcome it. They move on.

They've done it all season and throughout the playoffs so this, to them, was just going to be the newest version of that. They were going to pick up goalie Brian Elliott, who had been so good throughout but faltered here.

But the funny thing was, on the other side of the ice, the Stars felt just as confident.

They didn't like the way they played in the second period. They weren't happy that they stopped playing with 40 minutes left. But the fact that the Blues scored only once in that period, when it could have been much, much worse, left the Stars confident.

By their internal count, the Blues had nine scoring chances in the second period. They missed the net completely on five of them. The breaks that were going their way earlier in the series were sailing high. It's hard to bang a puck off a body part when the shot misses the net completely.

When the Stars survived the second period, they liked their chances.

"We felt confident going into the third that it was going to work out," said Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya. "You try to contain it as much as you can. We've done a good job the whole year defending leads. Even though we gave up goals, we find a way to hold on and keep that lead."

They do it, in part, because the Stars play a different game when leading. Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen made a lot of big saves, finishing with 35 overall. But those saves are of a different variety when the Stars are leading. The gamble is gone from the Stars' game, so the major defensive breakdowns Lehtonen often has to deal with as the last line of defense disappear, too.

The shots are more consistent. More players are blocking them and there are defensemen around to clear rebounds.

Lehtonen saw a lot of rubber but was never taken out of his comfort zone.

"It's maybe more predictable," said Lehtonen, who has bounced back nicely in this series after getting pulled in Game 2. "You know what's coming rather than if you're losing, [there] might be big breakdowns because we're trying to do something crazy."

The Stars might have taken their foot off the gas a little too much at times, but they didn't break down defensively, and the result was solid goaltending. It was Lehtonen's best performance of the series, especially the way he stood tall in the wild final minute, including a huge save on Jaden Schwartz from the slot with 23 seconds left.

"Those are series-changing saves," said Stars forward Jason Spezza.

And this series has been weird.

No two games have been the same. The moment you start to believe one of the teams has a significant edge, like the Stars' edge in speed early or the Blues' goaltending later, a major shift occurs. There have been overtimes. There have been blowouts.

This game might have been the most unique because things flipped completely. Blues goalie Brian Elliott has been an absolute rock in these playoffs but he lasted only 16:49 before getting pulled in favor of Jake Allen. The Stars had never had a two-goal lead in this series and suddenly they had that 5:13 into Game 6. The Stars' goaltending that struggled early in the series saved Game 6.

Predicting the result of that one is a fool's game because play has been different from period to period, let alone game to game, between the Stars and Blues.

Hitchcock is confident in exactly what he expects from his team in Game 7.

"I know one thing: We're going to come and we're going to come after them, big-time," Hitchcock said.

The Blues have been that way all postseason. They've been resilient. They've earned the trust of their coach.

The Stars? They seem to be learning the lessons of postseason hockey in warp speed. There were no bold proclamations from Stars coach Lindy Ruff afterward, just the observation that his group seems to pick something up each step of the way.

"We're still a team that's learning," Ruff said. "A lot of players, it's their first kick at this. I think we'll be better in Game 7. We'll be better again."

The Blues are coming. They've been on a mission since the start of this postseason, but the moment you start to count out these Stars, they surprise.

No two games in this series have been the same. There's no reason to believe Game 7 will be any different.