We can (kinda) thank Lee Stempniak for this playoff lead

Alex Steen nose how to score in the playoffs.

I was reading through Gallagher's bullet points (dangerous, those) on last night's game, and one of them caught my eye (ow, bullet in the eye). He posits: · Alex Steen's goal was his first career playoff goal. How is that possible? Just crazy.

That DOES seem crazy, doesn't it? But if you think back, it's not that crazy. The evolution of Alex Steen - now THAT's crazy. Let's flash back for a moment -- cue smoke machine and harp for hazy dream sequence...

It was November of 2008, and the Blues had played 18 games. As a typical Western Conference punching bag, they had reeled off a six-game losing streak that stretched from Halloween to Nov. 14. Nothing new there. These were the Blues. Players like Yan Stastny, Steve Regier and Cam Paddock were getting upwards of 10 minutes of ice time a game (thank goodness those days are over, right? Don't worry - it's almost time to wake up).

One ray of light at the time was Lee Stempniak, a moderately talented guy who Blues fans really liked, mostly since he was their only halfway decent player through the lockout this side of Keith Tkachuk. Just 25 at the time and on a long-term deal he signed after scoring 27 goals in a season, Stemper had notched 13 points in 14 games with the Blues.

And then he was traded to the Maple Leafs. Weird.

At the time, the fans didn't think much of the deal either way - but I would like to take this opportunity to thank John Davidson and the Blues' management for making that trade, because holy shit did it end up being a good move.

Last night, Alex Steen scored a goal (as Gallagher mentioned, his first of the playoffs) and added an assist, and Carlo Colaiacovo had three assists in a key playoff win over the Sharks. Lee Stempniak, presumably, played some golf.

When the move was made, I thought it was a wash. Stempniak had played over his head at times, and I didn't know much about Steen or Cola, except that they were both Leafs. I did some reading up on them, and they were both former first-round picks who hadn't played up to their potential. Sounds like something I've heard before. So I didn't think this would be an impact deal - and for a couple of years, it wasn't.

Colaiacovo quickly emerged as an offensive-ish, but injury-plagued defenseman, good for about 30 points and missing about 15 games a season. He has slowly become more or less expendable as the Blues' defensive talent has developed, though he has been a good pairing partner for Superman Alex Pietrangelo. That in itself would be enough of a return on Stempniak, I'd say.

But the Blues also acquired Alex Steen in the deal. For the first couple of years he wore the Bluenote, Steen wasn't anything special. He played third-line, sometimes second-line minutes on a pretty bad team. He was a grinder-ish. He checked. He didn't really make plays. He had just 24 points in his first 61 games as a Blue, and only six of those were goals. Fine.

But then something clicked, and Steen began a steady improvement. I heard someone earlier this season talk about how Steen was the best player on the Blues. Before Steen got hurt, my good buddy AverageJoe considered trading me Jarome Iginla for Steen, straight up. (Yes, this is the man who gives you fantasy advice in our Game Time papers. Though he'll be the first to tell you he finished three spots ahead of me this year - prolly because he didn't trade me Iggy). But come on - is it not crazy that, to SOMEONE out there, Alex Steen may actually be worth as much as Iginla. On any level. I'll take it.

The funny thing is, we may not have seen the apex of Steen yet - he's a good teammate, a good skater, plays well defensively, passes well, can shoot. But he's still only 28, and he has been on a constant upward trajectory since he landed at Lambert. It is possible that he could get better.

In the few years since the trade, Stempniak, meanwhile, bounced from Toronto to Phoenix to Calgary. And he hasn't scored more than 38 points for any of those teams in a season. Steen and Colaiacovo combined for five points in one (playoff) game last night.

As if you haven't been dicked enough lately: Thanks, Toronto!

Follow Nate the Great on his new Twitter account, @NateTheGreatGT, so you can receive such razor-sharp musings as last night's: At what point does Roman Polak pound someone so badly that the Roman Polak Door gets a handicapped button to open it automatically?

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