DALLAS — When first-year Dallas Stars Coach Jim Montgomery called out his team over a “culture of mediocrity” in January, the St. Louis Blues weren’t too far removed from having the worst record in the NHL.

Now the Central Division rivals will meet in the second round of the playoffs – and Montgomery, UMaine’s career leader in points, is ready to move on from his scathing critique, while declaring that the culture has changed.

“If you’re in that locker room, you see the culture now,” Montgomery after the Stars beat Nashville 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 on Monday to finish off the first-round series. “You see how much more professional we are. We work efficiently. We work effectively. And we work together.

“We’re going to be eight of 31 teams left, right? We’re doing something right. But we hope not to be done. But we know we’re facing a really good team next, again.”

The Blues went from having a league-worst 34 points on Jan. 2 to becoming the first team that was last in the NHL at the beginning of the calendar year to advance in the postseason.

Montgomery’s blunt assessment came after a 3-1 loss to St. Louis when the Blues were beginning to dig out of their hole. The Dallas turnaround started a week later with the beginning of a five-game winning streak that bridged the All-Star break.

A year after collapsing late in the regular season with an eight-game losing streak that started with six straight losses on the road, the Stars picked up seven of eight possible points on a four-game Canadian swing late in the season to all but wrap up their first playoff berth in three years.

Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist who had a playoff career-high 47 saves to finish off the Predators, will be facing his hometown team, and the one that drafted him 14 years ago.

“I’ve been trying not to think about it, obviously trying to worry about this series,” Bishop said. “It kind of gets a smile.”

The Blues and Stars were the lower seeds in their first-round matchups. St. Louis beat Winnipeg, also in six games. If Vegas wins Game 7 at San Jose in the remaining first-round Western Conference series Tuesday night, all four lower seeds will have advanced.

RULES: The pace and excitement of three-on-three overtime isn’t just a thrill for hockey fans – NHL players love it, too.

An Associated Press/Canadian Press survey of NHLPA representatives from all 31 teams found that 97 percent of those polled enjoy the league’s current overtime format during the regular season. The survey also found there are other rules the players are less thrilled with, ranging from delay-of-game penalties to confusion about goalie interference.

CAPS-HURRICANES: Justin Williams doesn’t lose in Game 7. Except that one time.

The player who earned the “Mr. Game 7” moniker for going 7-0 with seven goals and seven assists in winner-take-all situations lost in a Game 7 for the first time with the Washington Capitals in 2017. Now he’s back as captain of the Carolina Hurricanes looking to hand his most recent team another crushing playoff loss in a catalog full of them.

“You learn a lot about people when it’s win or go home, when it’s us or them,” Williams said. “Anything can happen next game, and we’re happy to be playing it.”

The Capitals blew a chance to eliminate the Hurricanes on the road Monday and will now host Game 7 at home Wednesday night. After Washington exorcised its demons against Pittsburgh, won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final at Tampa Bay and lifted the Stanley Cup last year, there isn’t the same doom and gloom hovering over a franchise that for years fell short of expectations.

SABRES: Defenseman Zach Bogosian will miss 5-to-6 months after his second hip operation in a little more than a year.


Comments are not available on this story.