The Blues are like Wyatt Earp in Tombstone when the lawman ambushed the ambushing Ike and his band of misfits towards the end of the film. After sinking a couple shotgun shells into the other man’s chest, Kurt Russell’s Earp stands over the bloodied and petrified Ike, cutting his chin open with his boot. Cinematic thunder strikes, and Russell (with the hair of a pissed off dark angel) screams: “you tell them I’m coming, and hell is coming with me!” Cue the electricity surging through our thighs as the St. Louis Rogues in Blue have returned to the land of the unknown: the playoffs.
While the general forecast calls for more hockey, what else can fans expect from this team that was left for dead (by yours truly included) back in January? You can expect some wins, and after six games, the Blues will move to the next round of the playoffs.
What? Is Buffa drinking whiskey drunk coffee again?
The answer is a flat no-granted at the moment I need something to put more lead in this coffee’s pencil-but the Blues are a stronger team at the moment than the Wild, and there is some unconventional wisdom packed into this prediction.
While the Wild finished on a four game winning streak that bolstered their goal differential to +58 and gave them 106 points to finish with, they endured an absolutely terrible month of March with a record of 4-12. Many of those losses were at the hands of quality opponents, and ended ugly. The four game finishing streak was aided by wins over the Avalanche and Coyotes, both of which shouldn’t be taken seriously.
But wait, the Blues kicked those teams around as well, so what gives? They also beat good teams in Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Nashville, Carolina, and Minnesota as well over the past month where their record was 15-5. The Blues are simply playing better hockey than the Wild, winning six of their last eight games.
Then again, everything changes once the playoffs begin, so what else is there? How about coaching?
The Mike Yeo factor also should play into the outcome here, due to the fact that the team across the ice still carries more than a few of the pieces from his head coaching days up north. Yeo’s insertion to the head coaching role in St. Louis has given the Blues a surge, and there’s ample weight to the fact that he can bring some of his knowledge of the Wild to this series.
Also, Bruce Boudreau teams choke like a dry roast in the playoffs, so there’s that too.
But wait: isn’t this the past talking again? Okay, how about goaltending?
Jake Allen has been white hot over the past couple months, while Devan “thank you Blues for the big contract” Dubnyk has looked awfully human. From October to January, Dubnyk was riding high while Allen was looking at his goal posts like Jekyll and Hyde. If there is one dominant key to the Blues turnaround, it has been Allen’s play in net. Over February and March, Allen’s save percentage was .933 and .953, respectively. Dubnyk’s percentage sat at .917 and .889 in the save two month bracket. Each goaltender’s movement-rising and falling-was a key ingredient in their team’s play.
Allen’s play bolstered the defense, which features the top penalty kill and doesn’t give up five goals routinely any longer. Without his play, the Blues wouldn’t be within striking distance of a divisional playoff berth.
The goaltender’s season totals:
Allen: 60 starts, 33 wins, 2.42 goals against average, .915 save percentage, four shutouts
Dubnyk: 63 starts, 40 wins, 2.25 goals against average, .923 save percentage, five shutouts.
I know what you are thinking: what if Allen doesn’t lose those two near shutouts in the waning minutes these past two weeks.
The Wild don’t have a Vladimir Tarasenko at their disposal, but they do have seven skaters with 45 points or more, including four 20+ goal scorers. The Blues have five players with 45+ points, and would have had another if Paul Stastny hadn’t missed 16 games due to injury. The Blues have experienced an infusion of young talent with the likes of Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, and Magnus Paajarvi. Did I mention how good the Blues defense has become and how Captain Alex Pietrangelo has looked great quarterbacking the power play?
Caveat: If Jori Lehtera plays meaningful minutes, the Blues will lose in six games.
The Blues lost to the Wild two years ago because they lacked scoring depth and had a playoff fresh goaltender. Two years later, this is Allen’s team now, and Tarasenko isn’t alone. The Blues don’t rely solely on blunt force trauma anymore-they mix in a fair dosage of speed and unique skill.
I look at this Blues team like a team reborn at the midway point of the season, and one that carries a bigger chip on their shoulder than any other team in the playoffs. For all the flash and grandeur the Winter Classic brought St. Louis, it felt like a long time solid actor who never won an Academy Award being given the career achievement trophy. The Blues have been around for 50 years, and have little more than an extra helping of April blue balls to show for it.
Will 2016-17 be any different? Can the Yeo effect continue and will Allen outplay Dubnyk this time? It’s like a rematch, but the coach changed sides and the Wild adopted Quentin Tarantino’s first choice for Winston Wolf behind the bench. While some think the Blues will fall in five or six due to “what happened then”, I think this team is going to keep surprising us.
Wouldn’t it be egregious ending for this one time cold team to rise up and make a deep run?
Will the Blues end up like poor Morgan Earp (damn you Bill Paxton)-lying on a poor table covered in blood from a shot in the back? Or will they stand tall like Doc Holliday standing over Johnny Ringo, after putting a hole in his head?
There’s only one way to find out, kids. Welcome back to playoff hockey.
Buy more bourbon.
Oh, Vladimir Sobotka is back-who gives a shit?