Jim Montgomery is a rookie NHL coach with a championship background.
With Montgomery, their third coach in three seasons after grizzled and somewhat different veterans Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, the Dallas Stars have gained home-ice advantage in the second round of their Western Conference playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.
”Monty’s been awesome this year. He’s really put everything together,” Stars top-line center Tyler Seguin said. ”We kind of had an offensive coach (Ruff), then we had a really defensive coach (Hitch). It took us a while to figure out what our identity was.”
The Stars and Blues certainly both found their way with new coaches this season, with St. Louis surging under interim coach Craig Berube since he took over in the 20th game of the season.
After the Stars won 4-2 in Game 2 to earn a split of the first two games played in St. Louis, Game 3 of the second-round series is Monday in Dallas (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN). It is the only game on the NHL playoff schedule that night.
Things are getting a bit chippy between the familiar rivals – Hitchcock coached both teams, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong used to have that same role in Dallas and Stars goalie Ben Bishop grew up in the St. Louis area before being drafted by the Blues and making his NHL debut for them.
”Playoffs tend to get chippy. It’s about holding your composure and finding the right times to do what you want to do,” Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said. ”Yeah, it’s heating up here in round two.”
There was a 72-second span in the first period of Game 2 on Saturday with three goals scored (two for Dallas) while skating 4-on-4 during concurrent roughing penalties against both teams.
St. Louis was 0-for-5 on power plays, including twice with two-skater advantages. The Blues had a 5-on-3 for 24 seconds in the first period, and had a 6-on-4 for nearly a minute late after pulling Binnington off the ice for an extra skater while on the power play.
”We ended up with the puck on the faceoff with the power play, we made a bad play and gave it back to them. Get the puck, get set up, we can get our goalie out a lot quicker there, and we’ll get the 6-on-4 with more time,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”It’s going to be tight (series). We’re both teams that play good defensive hockey, goalies are playing well. Our power play could have helped us … that might have made the difference in the game.”
Montgomery made the jump from college to the NHL last offseason after five seasons at the University of Denver, including a national title two years ago. He was part of a national championship as a college player at Maine in 1993. Before Denver, he was head coach and general manager for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League in a three-year season run that included two USHL titles.
Berube became interim coach for the Blues on Nov. 19, replacing fired coach Mike Yeo after a 7-9-3 start. They finished the regular season 38-19-6, including a franchise-record 11-game winning streak snapped by Dallas in February, and beat the Winnipeg Jets in six games to open the playoffs.
This is the second time Berube has led a team to the playoffs after taking over as interim coach. But the 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers didn’t make it past the first round.
While not quite as drastic as the in-season turnaround by St. Louis, the Stars had a five-game winning streak that bridged the All-Star break and avoided a late-season collapse like last year that kept them out of the playoffs. In a four-game stretch through Canada late this season, they picked up seven of a possible eight points.
”We trusted the process. It took awhile,” Benn said. ”We figured out what our identity was kind of around the All-Star break … we haven’t looked back and been playing some good hockey.”
For only the second day since the NHL playoffs started April 10, there is only one game to watch Monday.
The only previous day without multiple games was last Wednesday, when Carolina beat Washington in double-overtime Game 7 to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
After Monday, there is the chance for multiple games every day through at least May 8, depending on how many games are needed for each second-round series.