Bernie On The Blues: Finding A Risky Cure For The Stanley Cup Hangover.

I’ve been doing the sportswriting and sports-talk gig for nearly 40 years. As I mentioned on my Monday-morning 101ESPN radio show, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a coach, manager or athlete talking about flipping a switch.

As in …

You can’t just flip a switch and expect to win.

You can’t make a bunch of mistakes, get outworked, then flip a switch and win the game.

And for the most part, that’s right. Teams make comebacks during games, yes. But the overall percentage of staging successful comebacks — depending on the degree of difficulty — isn’t great.

The Cardinals, for example, won 17 games in 2019 when tied or behind on the scoreboard after seven innings. What’s wrong with that? Nothing really … except that the Cards lost 64 times when tied, or losing, as they began the eighth inning.

Relying on comebacks — or just fantastic finishes — is a dangerous existence. It isn’t easy to pull off these late raids to secure victories.

The St. Louis Blues are making a mockery of the premise.

The defending Stanley Cup champions often get outplayed at 5-on-5 hockey. They lose leads, slip into a tie, or fall behind. Too many turnovers, loose play, or lack of structure.

But the Blues are absolutely cold-blooded at money time … when it is time to flip the switch and win the game … you know, the switch that you can’t really flip so easily … the switch that every coach and manager warns against.

Well, to heck with that.

The Blues flip the switch.

Time and time again.

A late tie? Flip it.

Losing by a goal in the third period? Flip it.

Allow the opponent to drag you into overtime? Flip it.

As center Ryan O’Reilly told reporters after Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win at Minnesota: “I think we’re definitely comfortable in high-pressure situations.”

And above all else the Blues’ 9-3-3 record this season is attributable to their ability to recover from in-game trouble by relying on sharpened, hardened survival instincts.

Through the first 15 games, when playing at even strength, the Blues have a Corsi For (game-control) percentage of 48.15, which ranks 23rd among the 31 NHL teams.

Also at even strength: the Blues rank 23rd in shots-on-goal percentage (their opponents have 52.2 percent of those shots).

The Note is 26th in their percentage of scoring chances (47.5%) compared to opponents.

The gap is considerably worse in high-danger scoring chances at even strength; the Blues rank dead last in the league with their 41.5% share of prime scoring opportunities from the crease or slot. Opponents have 40 more high-danger chances than the Blues at even strength this season.

Given this disparity, the Blues should be much closer to .500. Instead, as of Monday morning, they were tied with Edmonton for most points (21) in the Western Conference.

The Blues are amazingly resilient. They know how to rebound. The boys are at their best when they are staring at a close deficit, with the pressure intensifying.

You want to motivate the Blues? Then just get a lead on them. That’s when the champs flip the damn switch.

The following stats caught my attention. I took a look at how the Blues perform when trailing by a goal. Please remember the numbers I’ve already cited here — the Blues’ mediocre overall percentages in shots and scoring chances at even strength.

When down by a goal at even strength:

The Blues have a 63.9 Corsi For percentage that ranks No. 2 in the league.
The Blues have outscored opponents 10-3 when trailing by one; that’s a scoring share of 77 percent. That’s No. 2 in the league.

Scoring chances? When down by a goal the Blues have 43 scoring chances to their opponents’ 18 — meaning that the Blues have controlled 70.5 percent of the scoring chances when caught in a one-goal deficit. That ranks first in the NHL.

The Blues have 62.5 percent of the high-danger scoring chances at even strength; that’s fifth best in the NHL.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

Since Jan. 3 of last season the Blues — with their core nucleus virtually intact — have a regular-season record of 39-13-3. That’s tied with Carolina for the most wins over that time. And the Blues’ percentage of points collected (.717) ranks second in the league to Boston.

When trailing by a goal the Blues at even strength have the NHL’s best Corsi For percentage, the highest percentage share of shots on goal, the second-highest goals scored percentage (62.16), the second-highest share of scoring-chance percentage (62.75) and rank fourth in high-danger opportunities.

This is crazy.

Crazy good.

We talk about the Blues having to deal with the so-called Stanley Cup hangover. But we need to talk a little more about something else: the intrinsic, forward-roll benefit of winning the Cup.

Nothing fazes a team that went 16-10 during the Stanley Cup tournament. The Blues’ remarkable capture of the chalice included a 10-3 road record, and a 10-3 mark in games determined by a single goal. Six of their one-goal postseason victories came on the road. And the Blues overcame several dispiriting postseason losses at Enterprise Center.

It makes sense to glance at this season’s early trend and see that the Blues are 3-2 when trailing after two periods — and 3-1-1 when tied after two.

“They’re used to it,” coach Craig Berube said told the media after the win over the Wild. “Going through the playoffs — there’s a lot of high-pressure situations there. I don’t think we panic. We stay with it. Things don’t go right all the time. That’s the way the league is, night-in, night-out. You just gotta keep battling.”

Flipping the switch and winning the hard way is working for the Blues. It’s seemingly part of their routine. But it’s also a hazardous way to go. Can the Blues sustain this?

I’d say no. But then again, the Blues have been doing it this way for the last 86 games including the 2019 postseason.

They’ve flipped a lot of switches.

And they’ve flipped the script … you know, the one about how the Blues would never win a Stanley Cup.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie