According to MoneyPuck, the Blues have a 52.2 percent chance to get past San Jose and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
And not to press too hard on the fast-forward button, but MoneyPuck gives the Blues a 25.3 percent shot at winning it all.
Stop right there.
Think about — again — how far the Blues have traveled … and I’m not talking about the flight to San Jose for the first two games of the Western Conference final.
According to the season graphics displayed at MoneyPuck, the Blues reached their low point on Dec. 10. On that date, the site gave the Blues a 0.6 percent chance to win the Stanley Cup.
Yep, 0.6 percent.
And now, here on May 10 … exactly five months later — that probability is up tp 25.3 percent. Only Boston (34.6%) has a greater probability than St. Louis.
It’s been an exhilarating ride. Since Dec. 11, the day after reaching their bottom, the Blues went 35-14-5 through the remainder of the regular season. Over that time only Tampa Bay (.790) had a higher points percentage than the Blues (.694.).
The Note was the most successful team in the Western Conference after Dec. 10. The winning has continued this postseason with the Blues’ take-out eliminations of Winnipeg and Dallas in the first two rounds.
OK, what about San Jose? The Sharks and Blues have some common attributes. The shared quality that resonates with me is competitive character. We’re familiar with the Blues’ improbable ascendancy after being relegated to non-contender, also-ran status in early December. It’s been a remarkable rise.
San Jose didn’t have a dramatic regular-season narrative; perhaps the Sharks were saving it for the postseason. In the first round San Jose trailed Vegas three games to one in the best-of-seven series — and rallied to win the next three games.
The most memorable highlight of the triumph came in Game 7 of that series when Vegas took a 3-0 lead at 3 minutes 36 seconds of the third period — only to have San Jose prevail 5-4 in overtime.
The Sharks valiantly pulled together after losing team captain Joe Pavelski to a concussion on a dirty play during the faceoff. San Jose came back in that game; Pavelski returned and played well in his team’s Game 7, first-round triumph over Colorado.
The Pavelski comeback from a legitimately scary injury has been described as “the perfect storybook ending,” for the captain and his team.
The Blues had their own dreamlike story, except that it began on Dec. 11 and reached an emotional peak (for now) when hometown hero Pat Maroon scored the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7 to catapult the Blues over the Stars and into the next level. It was truly one of the sweetest moments in STL sports history.
Moving on, the veteran Sharks will be a tough opponent to crack. But the Blues can get it done. And I believe that the Blues will emerge from this series to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970.
⇒ The Blues have been the superior 5-on-5 team. From Jan. 3 to the end of the regular season the Blues scored 60 percent of the goals in 5-on-5 competition against opponents. And they led the NHL with a 58 percent share of the high-danger scoring chances.
⇒ That trend has continued in the postseason. The Blues haven’t been quite as dominant throughout, but here’s all that matters: STL outscored the Jets and Stars 25-20 during 5-on-5 play. San Jose was a minus three at 5-on-5 during the first two rounds, getting outscored 28-25.
⇒ In charging back in the Dallas series — the Blues had to win the final two games to avoid elimination — they outscored the Stars by a whopping margin of 6-1 during 5-on-5 hockey. In the two victories that saved the season, the Blues had a 60 percent share of the shots on goal, and had a 56 percent share of the scoring chances at 5-on-5.
⇒ The Blues have a younger team. I think they’ll be fresher. They had to play 13 playoff games to get to this stage. San Jose had to play 14. The reverse was true in 2016, when the Sharks knocked the Blues out in a six-game conference final.
⇒ While it’s true that San Jose goaltender Martin Jones recovered admirably from his hideously poor start early this postseason, the Blues’ Jordan Binnington has been better.
⇒ In fairness to Jones, I compared both goaltenders’ stats from the reset point for Jones, using the numbers from his revived performance that began in Game 5 of the Vegas series. Over the next 10 games, Jones had a .935 save percentage and 2.03 goals-against average at 5-on-5. Over the same time frame, Binnington had a .943 save percentage and 1.51 GAA at 5-on-5. And in high-danger situations during 5-on-5 play, Binnington had an .852 save percentage compared to .819 for Jones. Their stats are pretty close in all even-strength situations.
⇒ Binnington has come up short in statistics comparisons in only one area: save percentage on the penalty kill. But that’s more of a reflection on the team around him. The Blues have not been sharp on special teams this postseason, and that’s the No. 1 threat to their opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
⇒ Through two rounds the Blues have a 17 percent success on the power play. Not only did the Blues fail to capitalize on 34 of 41 PP opportunities, the Blues were burned by two shorthanded goals. The Blues’ penalty-kill rate (75 percent) wasn’t great. If the Blues continue to flop on the special teams, they’ll put themselves in danger.
⇒ The Blues have sturdy balance, and receive a nice supply of secondary scoring from their defensemen and lower-tier line. But they’re going to need some scores from the top line, especially Vladimir Tarasenko. This should be his moment to shine.
⇒ And if anything No. 91 should bring some extra motivation to this series because of his fading form against the Sharks in the 2016 Western Conference finals. I’m backing Tarasenko and believe he’ll come through in this series.
“The difference is that in October, November, December, we were finding ways to lose. In January, February, March, we were finding ways to win,” said Doug Armstrong, the Blues’ president of hockey operations, in an interview with NHL.com.
That view reaffirmed by the Blues’ glorious triumph over Dallas in Game 7.
“Game 7 was a great portion of the story but not the end of the story,” Armstrong said. “We have a lot of work left ahead of us.”
My pick: Blues in 6.
Thanks for reading and have a swell weekend…