In a matter of milliseconds Sunday afternoon, the Dallas Stars went from enjoying a ton of momentum to dropping Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinals series against the St. Louis Blues in gut-wrenching fashion, 4-3 in overtime.
The victory enabled the Blues to gain an all-important split of the first two games at American Airlines Center.
The series shifts to St. Louis, where Game 3 will be played at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Game 4 is Thursday in St. Louis and Game 5 will be back in Dallas on Saturday.
Mired in a 3-1 deficit entering the third period, the Stars fought mightily, eventually tied the game at 3-3 and forced overtime. The game-tying goal was scored by Jamie Benn via assists from Cody Eakin and Kris Russell with just 2:36 remaining in regulation play.
But 10:41 into overtime, the Stars began to unravel. Forward Antoine Roussel was whistled for a two-minute interference penalty, much to the chagrin of the sellout crowd of 18,889.
Just 17 seconds later in what was the Blues’ second power play of overtime, David Backes scored the winning goal off a rebound as St. Louis managed to steal home ice advantage.
Roussel said he didn’t know if the referees made the right call against him.
“They have a tough job,’’ Roussel said. “It’s not easy to be a ref out there. It’s tough.”
It was an extremely tough day for Kari Lehtonen, the Stars’ usually reliable goaltender. The Blues roughed up Lehtonen for three huge goals in the opening 18:40 of the game, sending St. Louis to the second period with a 3-1 lead.
The three goals by the Blues — scored by Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson and Troy Brouwer — came on just five shots.
That was enough for Stars coach Lindy Ruff to pull Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi, who had 19 saves before the overtime goal.
“It was a tough start for the team,” Niemi said. “[The Stars] didn’t play well in the first.
“I felt pretty confident we had a chance to come back. I just wanted to be loose and make a few saves.”
A Roussel penalty led to a first-period power-play goal for the Blues.
“That second one was tough — he was trying to stay onside,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “It doesn’t matter whether I like the call or don’t like the call.
“I thought [Radek Faksa] ... we looked like we were going to get an odd-numbered rush and they got a couple hooks on him just before going through the middle of the ice, which I was frustrated with.”
Alex Goligoski gave the Stars a 1-0 lead just 3:26 into the game. But before Stars fans could finish celebrating, Berglund scored 35 seconds later for a 1-1 deadlock.
Two more lightning-quick goals by the Blues, and Lehtonen was done for the day.
“It really wasn’t [Lehtonen’s] night,” Ruff said, “and I felt that he was off and just decided to go with Antti.”
As Ruff predicted, the Blues turned up the physical side Sunday when they outhit the Stars 42-23 after registering just 26 hits in the series opener. Now the Stars have to win at least one game in St. Louis to reach the Western Finals.
The Stars won two games at Minnesota in the first round — including the Game 6 series-clincher.
“We played in an electric building against Minnesota, and they have good fans there,” said Mattias Janmark, who scored the Stars’ second goal. “I think we were able to play good games on the road, so that’s going to be huge for us now.”
What will also be huge is whether Ruff will start Lehtonen or Niemi at goaltender in Game 3.
“It’s whether we go and let Kari bounce back,” Ruff said. “It just seems there comes a point sometimes here Kari needs a rest, plays well after that.
“So we’ll make that decision sometime tomorrow.”
Stars at Blues, Game 3
8:30 p.m. Tuesday, NBCSN