The Blues summoned a character-driven performance in Game 1 at Winnipeg, winning 2-1 by pushing and persevering instead of panicking.
Much has been said and written about how Winnipeg forced the Blues out of their preferred style of play by delivering hit after hit to the visiting team. I didn’t see it that way. I saw a Blues team that had no problem standing up to the Jets’ tactics.
I saw a failed strategy by Winnipeg, which wasted a lot of psychological energy and physical exertion in the effort to rattle a Blues team that shook off the punishment without a hassle.
I saw the Jets — one stocked with abundantly dangerous scoring power — lunge into a blue-collar mode that limited their own scoring chances.
At 5-on-5, the Blues outshot Winnipeg 24-20, had more chances to score (19-17), and had the edge in high-danger shots from the slot and crease (6-5.)
I’m not saying that the Blues were comfortable throughout. Winnipeg obviously believed it could drain the Blues’ will with a barrage of body hits, some that made you cringe.
The Jets out-hit the Blues 36-21. And the sorties included an obvious first-minute run at goaltender Jordan Binnington by Jets forward Mark Scheifele, who was sentenced to the penalty box for a two-minute interference penalty.
“It’s playoff hockey. I can take a hit,” Binnington told reporters after the game.
Gee … the calm rookie — aka “Flatline” — was really scared, eh?
The Blues had to prove that they could walk into a hostile setting — and take on all of the heat turned up against them. The Blues had to show that they could take their regular-season success and transport it to the intense environment of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Here’s the wonderful thing about the Jets’ strategy: the Blues only grew stronger in the final stage of the competition. The Blues didn’t play very well in the second period, with the Jets having a clear edge in possession. But the home team could not extend its 1-0 lead.
A second goal (and two-goal lead) by Winnipeg would have put the Blues in a very bad spot, but the Blues didn’t crack. And the second-period draw became a St. Louis win. Not on the scoreboard. But in the battle of the minds.
A Blues team that apparently was supposed to crumble under the pressure of Winnipeg’s bombing runs did the opposite. The Blues played their best hockey, their most possession-dominate hockey, in the third period.
At a time when the Jets and their fans expected the Blues to be wilting by the shift, the Blues did something else … they turned wicked.
In the third period, in 18 minutes and 20 seconds of 5-on-5 play, the Blues had 66.7 percent of the shots, 60 percent of the scoring chances, and 75 percent of the high-danger opportunities.
In terms of goal expectancy — based on the team’s share of shots and quality of shots — the Blues had a 71.3 percent advantage over the Jets. This was a huge, huge edge at the most critical time of a roiling evening of hockey.
And that WAS reflected on the scoreboard, with the Blues winning the third period 2-0 on goals by David Perron (early) and Tyler Bozak (late.)
To me, the setup on Bozak’s goal was the takeaway image from this game, with Pat Maroon heroically fighting off two Jets in the corner — with a third Jet arriving to help — to gain control of the puck.
Maroon faced a 1-on-3 scrum there, but came out of the jam to glide a slick pass that Bozak cashed in with a perfect snipe for the winning score with only 2:05 remaining.
The Maroon, Bozak and Robert Thomas line was the Blues’ most impressive unit Wednesday. When they were on the ice at 5-on-5, they outshot Winnipeg 7-3 and were (according to Relative Corsi Percentage) about 26 percent above average — the highest rating of STL’s four lines.
Binnington handled the rest, snuffing Scheifele with a remarkable save in the final seconds.
Money … mad money.
Our friend Greg Wyshinski, senior hockey writer at ESPN.com, gave Binnington his No. 1 star for Wednesday’s performance.
That’s No. 1 star as in the best player in any NHL postseason game played last night.
“The rookie sensation announced his arrival in the Stanley Cup playoffs by skating into the most hostile of territories — the White-Out crowd of Winnipeg — and stopping 24 of 25 shots,” Wyshinski wrote. That included 17 saves in the first two periods, many of them spectacular, to give the Blues a chance to rally. The showstopper, literally, was a stop on Scheifele late in the third, the same player who was penalized earlier in the game for charging into him.”
It’s laughable that Winnipeg and some of its media believed they could get Binnington to tremble and shiver and cower and fear.
Go ahead and dig up some more stupid Tweets from Binnington’s teenage years.
That asinine tactic — clearly designed to disrupt Binnington’s focus — sure worked great right?
Yeah, for St. Louis.
So, please: more dumb tweets.
You folks are only making Binnington — who is a nasty cuss of a competitor anyway — more determined. Talk about a bad scouting report; the Jets and at least a couple of media clowns didn’t realize they were playing to Binnington’s strength — not his weakness.
Please continue to sharpen Binnington’s edge and get this Psycho Tweety Bird even more fired up.
Scheifele’s attempt to mess with Binnington didn’t lead to much … well, except for the fact that Scheiefle had a Corsi for percentage of 44.8% at 5-on-5 play. That’s well below average. Binnington was well above average.
Binnington was outstanding.
“Yeah, he did a great job,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Early on, with the Scheifele thing — that’s part of playoffs and he handled it well, and he played a hell of a game.”
The Blues will have to be sharper and less passive on the power play. The top line (Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Schenn) can make more impact.
There are lots of ways to improve, and this will be a long, closely fought series. But all that matters right now is Wednesday’s outcome.
The Blues snatched Game 1 from the Jets. And they did so by being mentally tougher, physically tougher, and turning all of Winnipeg’s hits into one big miss.
Thanks for reading …