The Blues have their best opportunity to win a playoff round in years as they open their 2016 postseason against Chicago Wednesday night in St. Louis.
Like any NHL team, there are keys to defeating the Blackhawks.
Here are six for the Note in this best-of-seven series:
1) Brian Elliott needs to be the stud he was the second half of the season.
After the All Star break, Elliott was 13-2 with a 1.86 GAA and a .934 save percentage.
His postseason record is 5-8, but he does have a .910 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.16.
Elliott is playing better than he ever has, and as well as any Blues playoff goalie of recent vintage.
If Elliott performs the way he did after the break, the Blues will take their chances.
2) Youngsters need to lift their game. Doug Armstrong said it a few years ago; in the playoffs the Blues need to “take the knife & jam it through their eye & into their brain & kill them.”
Obviously, the Blues haven’t done that. Now led into the playoffs by a young core of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson, this group must lift their game in the playoffs.
If veterans like David Backes, Alexander Steen, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester play as they have in previous post-seasons, the Blues will have to rely on the kids. There’s no reason to think the kids won’t continue to get better.
3) Get balanced and timely scoring. The Blues have won six playoff games the last three years. Steen, Tarasenko and former Blue Barret Jackman each have two game-winning goals.
With talent like Schwartz, Fabbri, Troy Brouwer, Paul Stastny, Pietrangelo and Parayko, there are plenty of guys that can score. They NEED to. The Blues got contributions from throughout the roster In the push to the playoffs over the last six weeks, .
Every champion needs balanced offense, and the Blues are no exception. The talented players need to score in April, May and June.
4) The defense needs to score goals. As Bernie Miklasz has noted, teams Stanley Cup-winning teams get goals from the blue line. The Blues have a group that actually has more offensive potential that some recent champions.
Last year’s Blackhawks got three goals and eighteen assists from Conn Smythe trophy winner Duncan Keith, and seven goals and four assists from Brent Seabrook. Other ‘Hawks defensemen had a collective goal and eleven assists.
In 2014, Los Angeles got 5-13-18 from Drew Doughty, 6-6-12 from Jake Muzzin and 5-5-10 from Alec Martinez, who scored the Cup winner. Other Kings D-men had three more goals and sixteen assists in 26 games.
That’s a total of eleven goals and 33 assists for 44 points for Chicago, and nineteen goals and 40 assists for 59 points for the Kings. Parayko, Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have all shown the ability to step up offensively.
It’s important at this time of year to have defensemen take their shots from the point and either get it past the goalie or have a big forward deflect it in. Getting some goals from the defense is going to play a big role in Blues playoff success.
5) Try to neutralize Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane has been virtually a point-a-game post-season performer for the ‘Hawks, scoring 114 points (and 48 goals) in 116 career playoff games. The key with Kane is to keep the puck away from him.
Blues defensemen need to stay between the puck carrier and Kane, and between he and the goalie when he gets the puck. While Toews isn’t as prolific, he lifts the team on his shoulders when they need him most.
The most recent example was last year in Anaheim, when he scored the first two goals in game seven as Chicago took a 4-0 lead and rolled to the finals with a 5-3 win.
Toews can do that, and it’ll be important for Backes and Patrik Berglund to lean on him and wear him down as the game and the series progresses.
6) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Blues must bring 100% effort to every game. Last year against Minnesota, they shockingly didn’t show up in games one and three, and lost the series there.
It’s imperative that the Blues give the proverbial sixty minutes each and every game. Although the Blues went 3-2 against the Blackhawks this season, they didn’t win a single game in regulation. So they need to start fast and don’t let up. Chicago is going to win games in this series.
If the Blues win, it’s probably going to take seven games. So they can’t have games where every skater isn’t giving his all.
There’s always something else that happens in a series…injuries and special teams are unpredictable. But under ordinary circumstances, the Blues’ keys to victory are pretty simple.