Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Welcome back! It has now been over a week since we last got together for a playoff game in St. Louis and certainly a lot has happened since the Blues eliminated the defending champions in as thrilling a game seven as one could ask for, perhaps the best playoff thrill since the Blues swept the Blackhawks in game four in 1993 when Craig Janney’s overtime goal sent Eddie Belfour into a raging meltdown. Most people would say that historically it was believed it was St. George who slayed the dragon, yet now Blues’ fans across America could say it was really St. Louis that slayed the dragon with the series win over Chicago.
It took some puck luck from the hockey gods, too, as with around three minutes in the game Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook launched a rocket of a shot that bounced off both goalposts and had to be cleared out of the crease by Alex Pietrangelo, who played perhaps the best game of his career, blocking shots with abandon, playing an average of over 30 minutes a game in the series. It was no mistake that he was on the ice when the Blackhawks pulled goaltender Corey Crawford in the last minute and a half for a frenzied finish. Along with Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen and David Backes, Peter-angelo (as mispronounced by NBC’s Pierre McGuire) withstood the last-gasp, desperate (and futile) attempt by Chicago to tie the game and force overtime.
St. Louis hockey is certainly well established for Monday night miracles, eh?
There was no miracle Friday night in Dallas during game one of this second round. The Blues simply did not play their high-tempo, north-south game, turning the puck over 25 times in the neutral zone and allowing far too many shots (42) on goaltender Brian Elliott. Elliott managed to stop 40 of them, yet the Blues could not manage to score more than one goal on 32 shots and came up short. Uncharacteristically, the Blues were out hit, 32 to 26. Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson led the way with seven hits, followed by Jay Bouwmeester. David Backes and Troy Brouwer with three each. Vlad Tarasenko had the second most ice time for forwards with just over 21 minutes (Alexander Steen played 29 seconds more), yet only had three shots on goal. Rookie defenseman Colton Parayko led the way with four shots (and an assist on Kevin Shattenkirk’s second goal of the playoffs), followed by Tarasenko, Steve Ott, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny with three each. This was Dallas’ first playoff win over St. Louis since 1999.
Sunday afternoon in Dallas turned out to be a very happy birthday for right-winger David Backes as he scored his third goal and sixth point of the playoffs to give the Blues an overtime victory and even up the series at one win each. This game easily and clearly shows what the Blues have to do to win. In the first period, St. Louis came out hitting and forcing play with a heavy fore check, taking a 3-1 lead. Troy Brouwer showed why the Blues obtained him from Washington with a power play goal and beautiful assist on rookie Joel Edmundson’s first playoff tally. The Note played a strong north-south second period, out shooting the Stars and hitting just about every Dallas player that touched the puck. And then inexplicably, in the third period they stopped hitting and lapsed into a defensive shell and were out shot 13 to 2 and outscored 2-0. Thankfully, the Blues found their game back in overtime, upping the checking and hitting (42 to 23 total hits for the game) and taking advantage of a rather obvious and stupid interference penalty by Antoine Roussel as Backes potted the game-winning goal on the power play.
So, now this is a best of five series and the Blues must take advantage of having three (of five potential future) matches on home ice, starting tonight. Obviously, if they can win all three, they will win the series, four games to two. Actually, if they can defeat Dallas on home ice in game five, they can win in five games.
Yet, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and instead focus on game three tonight. The Blues have improved their special teams statistics, scoring seven total power play goals now on 25 opportunities (28.0%) and allowing six power play goals against on 26 opportunities (76.9%). One obvious area of concern is shots against. The Blues have now allowed a total of 332 shots against in nine games, an average of just under 37 per game. In comparison, the Blues have a total of 262 shots, an average of just over 29 per game. Brian Elliott has been spectacular facing a barrage of shots, a lot aimed at his head in game two, even causing paint chips to flake off his dinged mask and get into his eyes at one point. His .930 save percentage clearly illustrates the Moose’s talent and athletic ability as an elite NHL net minder.
It is a tribute to St. Louis’ balanced scoring that they do not have a player in the top- ten playoff point-producers so far. Blues’ scoring leader Jaden Schwartz is ranked 15th, tied with Phil Kessel (as of Sunday night) with three goals and four assists. Only Paul Stastny’s line has under- produced with only three total goals, compared to Lehtera’s line with eight goals and Steen’s line with six tallies. Kyle Brodziak’s checking line with one goal was an added bonus.
It’s too bad more Blues’ players don’t have birthdays in May and June, right?