Two guys that didn’t have their jobs at the beginning of the season now have the St. Louis Blues one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Head Coach Craig Berube took over in November and instilled confidence and resolve in a talented group that was admittedly “mentally fragile.” Jordan Binnington took over as the number one goalie at the beginning of January and gave the Blues unprecedented goaltending; especially, as it turns out, in the post-season…where the Blues have never had a goalie avoid injury or implosion in 41 previous attempts.
We know that if the Blues play their game…the game Berube always talks about getting to…there isn’t a team in the league they can’t just beat, but dominate. That was in evidence Sunday in game five of the NHL’s Western Conference finals as they dominated the Sharks in every facet of the game in a 5-0 victory that gets them within a win of going to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in the 48 seasons.
In a remarkable twenty minutes of hockey in the second period, the Blues dispatched the Sharks by forechecking them into submission. After the Sharks had multiple chances early in the first, with Evander Kane hitting a post and Timo Meier having a great chance in the first minute, the Blues seemed to be on their heels. They were stuck in their own zone just like they were in the second and third periods of game four, being outshot 5-1 in the first three minutes.
But the Blues got to their game quickly, didn’t they? Brayden Schenn hit a post four minutes in, and then Oskar Sundqvist picked off a terrible pass attempt by compromised Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson and the Blues had the lead 5:50 in. I still wondered about the outcome…based on game four’s final two periods…after the Blues didn’t record a shot on goal in the last half of the first.
I stopped wondering early in the second. The Blues took it to San Jose like they did to Winnipeg in game six and Dallas in game six. On the Blues’ fourth shot of the period, Jaden Schwartz scored his first goal to make it 2-0 at the 3:05 mark. The Sharks didn’t know it, but their party pretty much ended there. With 6:53 gone in the period, San Jose whiner/defenseman Brent Burnes tripped Vladimir Tarasenko on a breakaway, and of course when a penalty shot was awarded, he scored on it to make it 3-0.
By the end of the period, the Blues had outshot San Jose 20-5 and had taken 31 shots. They had outhit, outhustled and outscored San Jose, leading 3-0.
Schwartz finished off a hat trick with a pair of goals in the third, and the Blues frustrated the Sharks that were left in the game. Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Tomas Hertl all didn’t finish because of injuries. Michael Haley tried to goad Alex Pietrangelo into a fight and was thrown out, so San Jose finished the game with just thirteen skaters. Even though the Blues were outhit 52-34, their opponents suffered the brunt of the physicality of the game.
From the 5:27 mark of the first period to the end of the game, the Blues outshot San Jose 40-16, and outscored them 5-0. And with the way things have gone in the last two…getting dominated and winning game four, and dominating and winning game five…there’s no reason to think the Blues won ‘t win this series in six.
We should know by now that this is as resilient a team as we’ve ever seen. They showed their mettle in rebounding from the worst record in the league in January. We saw them lose two straight at home to Winnipeg and allow the first goal of game five twelve seconds in before coming back to prevail.
We saw them go to overtime of game seven against Dallas and score in double overtime. And most impressively, we saw them give up a win with a last-minute goal and lose on a horrific officiating mistake in game three of this series. Yet they seem unfazed by any adversity that’s put before them.
Why? Because they have that attitude instilled by Berube, and the goalie we’ve never seen in St. Louis. For so many years when people have asked me why the Blues haven’t won a Stanley Cup, it’s been because they haven’t had the goalie. Jordan Binnington doesn’t give me any reason to believe he’s going to melt down like previous Blues goalies have. He has a great defense in front of him, and handles the chances he does face with calm, cool ease.
In game five, the Blues overpowered a talented Sharks team, really giving them no hope by the midpoint of the third period. They can, and should, be able to do the same thing at home on Tuesday night. Who’s ready for the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Finals?