Confident Blues Had ‘Self Control’ In Game 6 To Save The Season And Set Up a Game 7 Thriller

As just about every living Blues fan knows, the team’s fun victory song is “Gloria,” the 1982 hit by the late Laura Branigan.

On Sunday, when the Blues elbowed their way out of elimination and extended their season with a wholehearted 4-1 win at Dallas, I was thinking about the title of another Branigan hit:

“Self Control” (1984.)

The Blues were a picture of a self-controlled, steady and calm unit it canceling the Stars’ plans for a home-ice celebration. Given visitors’ determination to safely transport this second-round series back to St. Louis for Game 7, the Blues should have just cranked up another Branigan tune…

“Never In a Million Years” (1990) …. before Game 6.

After playing disorganized and disoriented hockey in Game 4 at Dallas (a 4-2 defeat) and failing — again — to turn on their home-security system for Game 5 at Enterprise Center (a 2-1 downer) the Blues were squinting at the glare of the warning lights … their season was perilously close to ending.

The Blues trailed the Stars three games to two in this best-of-seven drama. The scribes, the talkers and the fans were reheating the ancient “S.O.B.” narrative. (Same Old Blues.)

Well, the Blues may have been squinting at their demise as they traveled to Dallas for Sunday’s afternoon of reckoning.

Alas, the Blues didn’t blink.

Craig Berube sent a message to his team during his pregame comments to the media. “We all believe we’re going back for Game 7,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we? We’re a confident group that’s played good hockey for a long time.”

The players didn’t really need to hear that; they knew. But when the coach is so calmly confident less than two hours before the opening faceoff, it only reinforces the positivity and poise. And the Blues came out took charge, outshooting the Stars 8-0 in the opening minutes.

The Blues exercised impeccable self control. They carried out a methodical, effective plan to close gaps, cut down on mistakes, and limit the Dallas rushing game. And no, I’m not talking about

And when the Stars have had the best of it this series, they’ve frequently broken free on odd-man rushes that tested the stubborn brilliance of STL goaltender Jordan Binnington.

In the first five games of this swerving series, Binnington faced 12 rushes. And more of a few of those Dallas break-ins led to short-putt rebound attempts. The Stars had 23 rebound chances in the first five contests.

In surviving Game 6 by thriving on smart, sound hockey, Binnington (unofficially) confronted only one rush and three rebounds at 5-on-5 play.

Meanwhile, the Blues persistent forecheck and intense dedication to puck hunting produced a 22 Dallas giveaways. The efficient Blues gave the puck away only 10 times Sunday.

And once again the Blues seized the third period of a road game and wouldn’t let the Stars squirm free. The Blues outscored Dallas 2-0 in the final 20 minutes Sunday at that fit their successful pattern.

— Win on the road. The Blues are 5-1 in the enemy building this postseason.

— Win the third period on the road. The Blues have outscored home teams 11-2 in the third period of those six road battles.

“I’ve said it all series, I’ve said it all season, that this is a group that’s going to stick to that game plan,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said after Sunday’s rout. “It might take us to the third period, (but) we’re just going to keep on playing the way we need to play.”

Petro’s sentiment is true, even if the facts aren’t. The Blues have had too many letdowns — too much loose play — during the first two rounds, mostly at home.

When the Blues stray from their identity — a well structured defense, straight-line puck movement and wearing the opponent down through rigid possession — they’re fairly easy to beat. But when the Blues follow Berube’s map, they’re hard to to dislodge and defeat. Binnington’s superb last-line resistance makes the system hold up.

“I think wearing teams down through the game with the way we play, it’s hard to defend,” Pietrangelo told reporters on the ground in Dallas for Game 6. “It’s tough. Playing against guys who play the way we play as a team, it wears you down.”

Recently Recovered Thoughts On Game 6 … and beyond.

Let’s begin with the latest Ben Bishop controversy:

We sincerely hope that Bishop, the outstanding Dallas goaltender, recovers after being struck by that jarring Colton Parayko slapshot to his left collarbone. The blow, which came in the seventh minute of the third period, left Bishop down on the ice in pain (and probably shock.)

Bishop’s hard fall set up the knockout sequence, with the Blues getting goals from Jaden Schwartz and Sammy Blais in a stunning 33-second span. The scores gave the Blues a 4-1 lead and a meaningful ticket to ride back home for Game 7.

Predictably, this became an instant controversy in Dallas because the officials allowed play to continue instead whistling for a stoppage to check on Bishop. The Blues had possession at the time, and moved closer to the Dallas goal to bank Schwartz’s goal with Bishop sprawled on the ice.

“The game should have been stopped immediately,” Dallas Morning News columnist Josh Lile wrote.

The NHL rule doesn’t call for an automatic stoppage. Play can continue until the team that has the puck loses possession. The NHL may want to reexamine this rule during the offseason…but even this league wouldn’t rip up the rules and regulation in the third period of a Stanley Cup playoff game with one of the participants facing elimination.

Granted, the officials have the authority to halt play to check on Bishop. But the on-ice crew declined to take action. It’s a judgment call. And when you’re relying on the judgment of NHL officials, well, good luck with that.

Wrote Lile. “They got it wrong unless you inexplicably believe Bishop was embellishing the play at the end of game six in a one-goal game to create a dangerous situation for the Blues out of nothing. He wasn’t.”

I agree with Mr. Lile on principle. And to his credit Lile also wrote — in no uncertain terms — that the injury and officiating wasn’t the reason why the Stars lost Game 6.

My view: But Bishop has a rep, and that shouldn’t be ignored. Do I believe Bishop was faking or dramatizing an injury? No.

But since I am (evidently) the devil, I’ll have to offer this unpleasant observation: Bishop — a big, strong, aggressive and physical goaltender — flops around so much in trying to draw penalties, I can see why NHL refs would have at least a little skepticism here. You know, the old Boy Who Cried Wolf thing.

The Stars trailed 2-1 when Bishop absorbed Parayko’s shot. The Blues were controlling the game. This doesn’t mean the Blues would have definitely won this game by a 2-1 score, but they were a confident, assertive team at the time.

If there was so much widespread concern over Bishop — if the officials screwed up by permitting the Blues to continue their possession — then why did Bishop remain in the game after Schwartz goal? Bishop gave up the Blais goal 33 seconds later. He was pulled after that, at 8:10 of the third period, and the Stars down by three goals.

Said Dallas coach Jim Montgomery. “It’s the referee’s discretionary call. We’ve got to keep playing, we’ve got to keep fighting through that. (The referees are) doing a good job and they’re at this level of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a reason, and they thought there was no reason to blow the whistle.”

1. Game 7, Tuesday night at 7 o’clock, winner take all. The math is ugly. The Blues are 2-4 at Enterprise Center this postseason and have been outscored 13-8 at 5-on-5 play. Obviously, this team can’t have another depressing performance at home in Game 7. … honestly, I don’t trust this situation.

2. Binnington stopped all 22 even-strength shots on goal in this one. And despite the prevailing view out there that has Bishop outplaying Binnington, it simply isn’t true based on the facts.

3. Through six games, Binnington has a .942 save percentage at 5-on-5; Bishop is at .908. In all even-strength situations, Binnington’s save percentage (.931) is well above Bishop’s .905.

4. In high-danger save percentage, Binnington (.881) has been superior to Bishop (.813) at 5-on-5 … and at even strength it’s Binnington with an .848 save percentage to Bishop’s .818. The only category where Bishop has the edge over Binnington is save percentage on the penalty kill. But let’s just say that Bishop is hardly getting bombed with shots by the Blues’ weak power play.

5. One more: at 5-on-5, Binnington has faced 10 more high-danger shots than Bishop. At even strength, Binnington has been peppered with 13 more high-danger shots than Bishop. And Binnington has encountered more rush attempts than Bishop. And rebound attempts.

6. With his team’s season on the line Sunday, one goaltender had a .1000 save percentage at even-strength (Binnington.) And with a chance to help his team advance to the Western Conference finals, the Dallas goaltender stopped only 12 of 16 even-strength chances (.750.)

6a. All of this said, if Binnington has a horrible Game 7, and Bishop (assuming he starts) is the hockey hero … well, no one will be talking about the way each guy played through the first six games.

7. Berube still has the touch in making shrewd lineup decisions. It was an outstanding move, to insert Sammy Blais. Not only did he score he putaway goal Sunday, but Blais was active in setting up the first score of the game (even if he didn’t receive an assist.) And Blais had nine hits in Game 6. And Berube did a swell job of mixing his lines throughout. Blais was a dynamic presence on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and  David Perron. That combination played 10 minutes at 5-on-5 and had a Corsi For percentage of 72.7. (As a point of reference 50 percent is average.) At 5-on-5 the new line outshot he Stars 6-2, outscored the home team 1-0, and had a big edge in scoring chances (3-0) and high-danger chances (2-0.)

7a. Perron scored. He and the Blues really needed that. Perron’s first goal of the series gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at 15:24 of the second period, and came at a time when the Stars were finding their “A” game, and spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Perron’s strike, which pounded the net after a nice setup by Oskar Sundqvist, ended a spell of eight straight games without a goal. Perron hadn’t scored since Game 4 of the Winnipeg series back on April 14.

8. Schwartz had a goal and an assist and a plus-minus rating of +2. He has eight goals in 12 postseason games. But all eight goals have come in the last eight games. Five of the eight were third-period scores. Three of the eight were officially credited as game-winners. Schwartz had only 11 regular-season goals this year — and didn’t score his eighth goal of the regular season until March 19. This is a terrific turnaround … a terrific story,

8a. Only five Blues have scored more than eight goals in a single postseason:

Brett Hull, 13 in 12 games, 1990.
Hull, 11 in 13 games, 1991.
Greg Paslawski, 10 in 17 games, 1986
Vladimir Tarasenko, 9 in 20 games, 2016
Doug Gilmour, 9 in 19 games, 1986.

Schwartz is one of six Blues to have eight goals in a single postseason; the others ar Bernie Federko (1981), Brian Sutter (1982), Hull (1993), Shayne Corson (1996) and Troy Brouwer (2016.)

9. It’s difficult to single out one or even two Blues defensemen for their play in Game 6. But the guys who played the most — Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo, Joel Edmundson — had tremendous games. The four combined for a goal, two assists, and were collectively a plus 8. Their ice time ranged from Edmundson’s 19:01 to the massive Pietrangelo total of 25:24.

10. The 2016 Blues went 6-4 on the road during their run to the Western Conference finals; that’s the most postseason road wins (single season) by a Blues team in franchise history. But the 2019 Blues are right there, at 5-1. And they have a better road winning percentage than the 2016 Blues.

I’m hoping watch more Blues’ road games this postseason. Are you?

Please pardon my typos. It’s late and past my bedtime on this Sunday night.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie