The 2018-2019 Blues have already accomplished so much.
They have accomplished more than any honest or reasonable person could have expected, given the sorry state of a dysfunctional team when management sacked the overwhelmed coach Mike Yeo on Nov. 11.
We know the standings-math history by now. We have committed it to memory. But let’s just roll it around our heads one more time …
⇒ Through their first 37 games, the Blues had 34 points, the fewest by an NHL team on Jan. 2. They were, in that context, the worst team in a 31-team league.
⇒ Over their final 45 regular-season games, beginning Jan. 3, the Blues drove a Zamboni over opponents in amassing 65 points — the most of any NHL team over that time.
The Note crashed the playoffs, upsetting Winnipeg in a six-game first round series. They survived a scary threat from Dallas, prevailing in the second-round series in the second overtime of the seventh and final game. The Blues were down three games to two in the best-of-7 series and rallied.
Next, San Jose. After getting a raw deal on a horrendous non-call on an illegal hand pass that led to San Jose’s winning OT goal in Game 3, the Blues were knocked down in the series, with San Jose taking advantage of minor-league level officiating to go ahead two games to one. But the Blues shook off this unjust outcome and eradicated any psychological burden by winning the next two games: 2-1 at home on Friday, and 5-0 on Sunday at San Jose.
The Game 5 shutout was a demolition, with the Sharks losing the game, their hold on the Western Conference final — and ultimately their composure, discipline, and dignity in an embarrassing meltdown that was actually comical to watch. San Jose’s gonna play rough? The team that whines about every call, constantly plays the victim role? A team with a ridiculous sense of entitlement that expects dumb game officials to set the Sharks team with advantages? THAT team? Hysterical.
The Blues have won 11 games this postseason, the most by a Blues’ squad in a single postseason. And that’s a big deal for a franchise that’s competed in the playoffs 42 times in 51 on-ice seasons.
Up three games to two, the Blues need one victory to charge into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970. They can get it done at Enterprise Center on Tuesday night. If they fail, then it’s back to San Jose for Thursday’s winner-take-all Game 7.
The boys in Blue will have two shots at making it to the final round and a chance to clash with the Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins for the most cherished trophy in North American professional team sports, the Stanley Cup.
“It would be a dream come true,” Jaden Schwartz said of the opportunity to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. He was speaking after his three-goal performance. He was speaking after his team’s relentless feeding frenzy that left the Sharks shocked, dazed, and thrashing wildly in late-game attempts to go dirty on Blues players.
And from a historical standpoint, there’s always a “but” when referring to the Blues …
For all that the great things the Blues have done for their ownership, for their franchise, for their coach, for each other, and for their fans … for as far as they’ve come and for as close as they are…
In reality, they’ve won nothing yet. And that’s the way it will always be until the star-crossed franchise ends one of the most extensive historical droughts in pro sports. The Blues have been in business for 52 years and 51 seasons of play — with no Stanley Cup to show for their blood, sweat, gruesome luck, and weepy eyes.
This will be the Blues’ first crack at making it to the Final since 1986, when they won the famous “Monday Night Miracle” 6-5 in OT to even their series with Calgary at 3-3. But the Blues came up a goal short, losing 2-1 at Calgary in Game 7. (I was at that game, helping cover it for the Post-Dispatch. My goodness… seems like a lifetime ago.)
There isn’t a chance in hell of this team taking their opportunity for granted.
The Blues seem unusually focused for a team that carries such a heavy load of wishes, hopes, prayers … and the many, teary-eyed, blurry disappointments of the past.
And that’s unfair, because the past is the 100 percent responsibility of the Blues’ teams that came before them. It has nothing to do with this group.
Probably a better idea to respect this team and what they’re poised to do.
“Obviously, it’s something that everyone’s worked for and dreamed about, so you don’t want to look too far ahead,” Schwartz said. “We all know how important and how hard that last win is going to be.”
The Sharks must endure a cluster of injury concerns. They had four players depart during Sunday’s beatdown including defenseman Erik Karlsson, captain Joe Pavelski, and forward Tomas Hertl. The Sharks must also relocate their collective mind after losing it during Sunday’s humiliating smashing by the visitors.
All of that said, San Jose faced elimination in three consecutive games during the first round — in arrears to Vegas three games to one — and pulled off a stunning comeback with three straight wins to move forward to the second round.
The on-ice officials saved the Sharks with a horrendous call in Game 7 against Vegas.. The NHL’s replay system saved them again in Game 7 of the second-round series vs. Colorado. The on-ice officials and the NHL’s loony-tunes policy on instant-replay reviews saved them in St. Louis in the final seconds of Game 3.
After losing two in a row — and getting outscored 7-1 since the illegal hand pass that set up the tainted winning goal n Game 3 — here’s the question:
Can the Sharks save themselves?
For the Blues, there is only one suitable answer: assume that the Sharks will invade Enterprise Center and play at their highest level in Game 6.
“We’re still alive,” Sharks forward Logan Couture told the media after Game 5. “We’ve been in this spot before.”
Yep. And throw away the updated MoneyPuck forecast that gives St. Louis a 77.2 percent chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. As long as the Sharks are breathing, they should be viewed as a threat.
“We just have to keep our cool,” Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson told reporters after Game 5. “We’ve got to play Game 6 just like we did Game 5 and if we do, we’ll have a good chance. But we’re not getting too high, not getting too low. We’ve just got to look forward to Game 6.”
Tuesday at Enterprise, we could witness one of the greatest nights in the history of St. Louis professional sports. A Blues’ triumph would lift the building from its mooring. That celebration must be fought for, and earned.
I love something that hometown hero Pat Maroon said minutes after Sunday’s big-boom victory.
“We’ve got to find ways to get over this win and get ready for Game 6,” he said.
Usually teams talk about getting over a loss.
Maroon and his teammates are stressing the importance of putting a win behind them, and putting it out of mind, and as soon as possible.
Heck yeah, Blues. Find a way to get over that 5-0 whooping of a whiny, lucky San Jose team.
Get over it.
Go get Game 6.
The Blues know what to do. And they’ve won our trust.
Now, go win the series.
25 BLUE NOTES, JUST FOR YOU:
1. Total team effort: In their 18 postseason games, the Blues have had 18 players score a goal (or more) and 19 players get at least one point.
2. Jaden Schwartz has 12 goals in his last 14 postseason games this spring. And over the 12-game spree, 27.2 percent of his shots on goal have produced a goal. Sick.
3. Schwartz had 11 goals in 69 regular-season games; six percent of his shots on goal resulted in a goal.
4. You could say that Schwartz has found his scoring touch. He’s the first Blue to notch two hat tricks in the same postseason. (Which I’m sure you knew already. Just in case, right?)
5. San Jose’s Logan Couture has outscored Schwartz 14-12 in these playoffs.
6. At five-on-five play, Schwartz has 10 goals … Couture has six. The 10 goals by Schwartz are the most at five-on-five play by an NHL player this postseason.
7. Through five games, the Blues have outscored San Jose 14-9 at five-on-five. That’s 60.8 percent of all goals scored during this series at five-on-five.
8. The Blues have 54 percent of the total shots on goal at five-on-five during this series.
9. The Blues have 57 percent of the high-danger shots on goal at five-on-five during the series.
10. The Blues are 7-2 on the road this postseason. The seven road wins are the most by a Blues team in a single postseason.
11. As the road team, the Blues have outscored home teams 26-13 at five-on-five play. Absurd. That isn’t supposed to happen.
12. Jordan Binnington has a .928 save percentage in 18 postseason games at five-on-five.
13. In the nine road games, Binnington has a .932 save percentage at five-on-five with a goal-against average (at five-on-five) of 1.80.
14. Does anyone out there have any doubts whatsoever about Binnington? Since the Sharks “beat” him with the winning goal on the illegal hand pass in Game 3, Winnington has led the way to his team’s two consecutive wins by stopping 50 of 51 shots (at all strengths.) That’s a .980 save percentage, and an 0.50 goals-against average. He’s also stopped eight of nine high-danger shots (89 percent.)
15. Binnington’s counterpart, San Jose’s Martin Jones, has an .887 save percentage over the last two games (all strengths). That includes stopping 17 of 22 high-danger shots (77.3 percent.)
16. At even strength, Binnington has stopped all 41 of San Jose’s shots over the last two games including all six high-danger chances.
16a. Binnington is the first rookie to post a shutout win in the postseason. And he’s cruised past Brian Elliott, Roman Turek and Curtis Joseph for the most postseason wins (11) by a Blues goaltender in a single Stanley Cup tournament.
17. San Jose went 6-2 at home this postseason against Vegas and Colorado. They are 1-2 at home vs. the Blues, and have been outscored 9-2 in the two defeats.
18. Through the first five games of this series, the so-called fourth line of Alex Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev have been on the ice together for 45 minutes and 4 seconds. Here’s an accounting of the damage that Steen, “Sunny” and the Barber have inflicted on the Sharks:
19. To clear up any confusion: when Sundqvist scored the Blues’ first goal Sunday, Steen was on the ice. But the Blues hadn’t fully completed a line change, and Pat Maroon stayed out there, with Barbashev on the bench. I guess we could consider Maroon an “honorary” fourth liner in this instance. And why not? In that case, the Blues’ so-called No. 4 line has outscored the Sharks 4-1.
20. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer panicked by putting injured defenseman Erik Karlsson in the lineup for Game 5. Karlsson was obviously hurting and greatly impaired in Friday night’s Game 4, and it was wacko to use him Sunday after a short turnaround. Karlsson wasn’t capable of moving well, playing well. Karlsson played only 10:32, was a minus 1, and disappeared from the game . DeBoer’s incomprehensible decision cost the Sharks big time when Karlsson gave the puck away to Sundqvist who scored on a one-timer for a 1-0 STL lead.
21. Blues coach Craig Berube has pretty much been flawless in this series. Getting his team ready for Game 2 after a sloppy Game 1 … getting his team emotionally reset after the Game 3 debacle … getting his team charged up and on the attack for Game 5, with the Blues never letting up despite the big lead — something Berube insisted on after his guys stopped attacking offensively with a one-goal lead in Game 4. And his line combinations, changes, defensive pairings … just an amazing job.
22. Excellent job on faceoffs in Game 5 by Brayden Schenn (10 of 13, 77%) and Tyler Bozak (13 of 21, 62%.) Sundqvist won 50 percent of his 10 draws. And though Ryan O’Reilly won only 45 percent of his faceoffs, he was perfect (4 for 4) in the offensive zone.
23. In even-strength situations over the last two games, when Logan Couture has been on the ice for the San Jose, the Sharks have been outscored 3-0, and have only a 36.4 percent share of the scoring chances. The Blues’ pairing of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouweester have led the shut-down effort on Couture. But Couture will be flying in Game 6.
24. Teams that have a 3-2 lead in an NHL conference final series have gone onto win the series 80.5 percent of the time. (That’s 66 series wins, 16 losses, after being up 3-2.)
25. Anyone still fussing over Vladimir Tarasenko? That penalty shot for a goal … killer. He’s the only player on either side that has at least one point in all five games … he has two goals and five assists overall for seven points; Couture has six points in the series … In Game 5, No. 91 had a goal and two assists and was a plus-3 … the Blues have outscored San Jose by two goals with Tarasenko out there during this series (all situations) and have controlled 55 percent of the shots and 54 percent of the scoring chances.
25a: Karma: in the two games since his illegal hand pass, San Jose’s Timo Meier has no points, is a minus 2, and was penalized for hooking late in the first period of Game 4 … and nine seconds later, Tyler Bozak scored on the power play to give the Blues a 2-0 lead, The final score was 2-1, meaning that Bozak was credited with the game-winning goal. Karma.
I’m outta words…
Thanks for reading.