Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Once again I am disappointed and rather unhappy to be writing an article for a game tonight in St. Louis since I was positive the Blues would win both last Thursday and Saturday and wrap up a round two victory, ready to meet the winner of the Predators/Sharks series. Alas, here we all are tonight, anxiously awaiting a game in which the Stars either face elimination or force a game seven in Dallas on Wednesday in which either team could be eliminated from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Blues woulda, coulda, shoulda won game four, however too many crucial mistakes at inopportune times led to Dallas’ overtime victory. If it wasn’t Blues’ defensemen coughing up the puck leading to Stars’ goals, then it was goaltender Brian Elliott uncharacteristically giving up "an AHL goal" over his shoulder on the short side in overtime to Cody Eakin, his first goal of the playoffs. Earlier, Patrick Sharp scored his first goal of the series, fourth of the playoffs, as well as the Stars’ first power play tally of the series in 13 attempts. However, around eight minutes later, Paul Stastny netted his first goal of the playoffs on the power play to knot the score at two each. There was no scoring in the third period, leading to Eakin’s tally in a short overtime.
The Blues played an almost perfect road game on Saturday to earn a 3-2 lead in the series although they were out shot 22 to 28. Brian Elliott was up to the task, though, making several spectacular saves to seal the deal. Stastny was the offensive leader with a goal (#2) and assist (#4). Robby Fabbri also potted a goal (#2) and assist (#8), yet the game winning goal was scored by Dmitrij Jaskin, making coach Hitchcock look like a genius for inserting him into the lineup in place of Ryan "the Punisher" Reaves. Overall, St. Louis played a magnificent game, making it possible to eliminate Dallas tonight with a solid victory on home ice.
The Blues are now five for 18 (27.8%) with the man advantage in this series with Dallas, along with an amazing 93.8% penalty killing record (15 of 16). Overall, St. Louis leads all teams remaining in the playoffs with a power play proficiency at 27.8% (10 for 36) and is ranked fifth overall at 80% on the penalty kill. The Stars are ranked 6th on the power play and 7th on the penalty kill among the seven remaining clubs. The Blues are now ranked 7th allowing shots against (34.5) and are last among the seven remaining teams with only 29.1 shots per game. Surprisingly, Dallas leads the pack only allowing 27.3 shots against per game, while Pittsburgh leads remaining playoff teams with 32 shots per game. Washington also has well over 30 shots for per game.
So, have I mentioned that the Blues can eliminate the Stars tonight?
The last two times the Blues qualified for the Conference Finals, they lost in 2001 to Colorado in five games and in 1986 to Calgary in seven matches. That, of course, was the year of the Monday Night Miracle, which occurred on May 12. For what its worth, May 12 falls on a Thursday this year. It is improbable that the Blues will play this Thursday, though, as it is likely the Nashville/San Jose series will go seven games, meaning the next round would probably not start until at least Saturday, May 14. Previously, the Blues played in and won three Western Conference championships the first three years of the club’s existence, 1968-70, defeating the North Stars, Kings and Penguins. There will be more on these series in the next edition of Game Time when the Blues open at home in the Conference Finals for the first time in 15 years. Yes, I am quite optimistic.
The road to playoff success against Dallas has been fairly obvious through five games, paved with puck control through the neutral zone, heavy fore-and back-checking, as well as vastly superior special teams. Although out shot by Dallas in four of the five games so far, 158 to 144 overall, the Blues have nevertheless prevailed due to the excellent work of Brian Elliott, who has made 148 saves in the series. A save percentage of .937 in the series is slightly better than Elliott’s overall save percentage of .932, ranked third just behind Washington’s Braden Holtby and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray and slightly ahead of Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne among goaltenders still active in the playoffs.
Another factor in the Blues’ success is their hitting game. St. Louis has out hit Dallas in four of the five games, 166 to 138. Overall in the playoffs, the Blues have out hit the Blackhawks and Stars 449 to 344; a difference of 105 hits over 12 games. St. Louis has also dominated face offs during the playoffs, 418 to 392, ranked second (to the Islanders) among the eight teams remaining in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Yes, it is pretty clear the Blues are the better team compared to the Stars, yet the better team does not always win the game or series during the NHL playoffs. So, if the better team is to win this series, consistency will be required and the Blues just have to maintain and keep skating north/south, passing quickly through the neutral zone, getting traffic in front of the Dallas goaltender and keeping shots on goal. Effective checking and strong hits are also quite necessary if the Blues are to advance to the Conference Finals tonight.