Originally created 05/03/01

Blues go for sweep against Stars



ST. LOUIS -- One more victory, and the St. Louis Blues will alter their image as a team that always makes the Stanley Cup playoffs and then exits quietly.

The Blues are poised for their first trip to the conference finals in 15 years, carrying a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals over the Dallas Stars into Game 4 Thursday.

Cory Stillman, whose goal in the second overtime was the difference as the Blues capped a comeback from a two-goal deficit Tuesday night to win 3-2, hopes that was the knockout punch.

"Hopefully, it takes a lot of wind out of their sails," Stillman said. "Hopefully, it's enough."

The Blues have the longest-running playoff streak in the NHL, indeed in all professional sports, at 22 straight seasons. Next-best in the league are the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, each with 11 appearances in a row.

One of the biggest games in franchise history was a comeback from a 5-1 third-period deficit to beat the Calgary Flames 6-5 in Game 6 of the 1986 conference finals. Highlights from that game are often played before Blues' games, including their present playoff run. But they lost 2-1 in Game 7.

Since then, they've made it to the second round eight times and had six first-round knockouts. The closest they came to making it to the third round was 1996, when the Red Wings won 1-0 in double-overtime in Game 7.

"We're all relatively new," said forward Marty Reasoner, who has three goals in the Stars series. "But we realize the city has been starving for teams to do well.

"The great thing about it is they've been so supportive, regardless."

The Blues are excelling in the playoffs a year after they won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team. This season, they entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, but bulked up by acquiring power forward Keith Tkachuk, Scott Mellanby and Stillman.

"We're learning to win," coach Joel Quenneville said.

Only two teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup finals and the 1975 New York Islanders in the quarterfinals. Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team is trying to make the Stanley Cup finals for the third straight season, wasn't putting up too brave a front.

Before an optional practice Wednesday, Hitchcock talked about the Stars' chances of extending the series back for a Game 5 on Saturday in Dallas, but not about rallying to win the series.

"I'm not going there," Hitchcock said. "What's do-able is to bring it back to Dallas, and then let's see where it goes."

At this stage, he conceded, it's difficult to concentrate on one game and not on the monumental task ahead.

"That's the challenge I have, that's the challenge each individual has," Hitchcock said. "We're in a hole. Like I said last night, they've got a big hammer and we've got a nail and we've got to move that thing around a little bit."

Hitchcock said better effort from unspecified players will keep the Stars alive. Dallas led 2-0 midway through the second period.

"There's some individuals that are maxing out, but we don't have a choice here," Hitchcock said. "We just need to have more from certain players, and it's non-negotiable."

Forward Mike Modano, who had two assists in Game 3 after missing Game 2 with a sprained left ankle, agrees.

"We need everybody to start contributing and pitching in," Modano said. "We need four lines, we need everybody pulling the same way."

Defenseman Bryce Salvador is expected back in the Blues' lineup after missing Game 3 with a head injury. His forehead was bloodied when he was driven into the boards by Benoit Hogue in Game 2.

Salvador's replacement, Todd Reirden, played less than three minutes and didn't see any action after the second period.