Stars, Blues get underway in second round

Stars, Blues get underway in second round

While this doesn’t represent completely foreign territory for the Stars and Blues, suffice it to say that the Western Conference semifinal stage could take some getting used to tonight.

After encountering considerable resistance during the opening round, Dallas and St. Louis drop the puck at 8 p.m. CT in their series opener. Handicappers at online sports book Bovada.lv give the No. 1 seed odds of -115 to jump on top. Conversely, Ken Hitchcock’s club enters the American Airlines Center as a -105 underdog.

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Hitchcock actually served as the Stars’ coach when the organization captured its lone Stanley Cup in 1999. Now, however, he’s at the helm of a St. Louis group that just outlasted Chicago in a fierce seven-game battle. The Blues are back in the second round for the first time in four years, and they also took four of the five regular-season affairs vs. Dallas.

Naturally, the Lone Star State faithful will point to the fact that two of those triumphs came in overtime. Coach Lindy Ruff has more pressing matters on which to dwell than months-old results, though. All-Star center Tyler Seguin (lower body) remains sidelined, putting even further pressure on first-line center Jamie Benn. The captain continues to raise the bar higher and higher, but will he find much room to operate against the Note’s tenacious top defensive pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester?

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Benn and Blues wing Vladimir Tarasenko always lurk as game-breakers. Nonetheless, expect a tight-checking, grind-it-out contest in several hours. These two heavies of the West need to feel each other out before broadening the offensive palate.

FRIDAY NHL FREE PICK: BLUES/STARS UNDER 5 GOALS

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