What in the ass, Blues?!
Back in January, if someone stumbled up next to you on the streets of Market and Clark and said, “in four months, the Blues will be guided to a four games to one series win over the Minnesota Wild on the coattails of Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, and Magnus Paajarvi,” you’d check them into a mental hospital and take away their copy of Twin Peaks while pouring their bottle of everclear down the drain. Sometimes, the hockey gods don’t give a shit about midseason games.
Welcome to playoff hockey, where trends and rules go to die; a place where normal thinking and statistics don’t matter as much. What the Blues have done the past ten days defies natural St. Louis hockey law. In dispatching Bruce Boudreau’s Wild in five games, they have reversed a painful trend of April hockey and given new life to the phrase, “you never know.” Every suffering Blues fan is smiling right now, and that is all that matters.
How the fuck did this happen? It comes down to having one dominant player, some luck, and the ability to finish plays.
The Wild beat up the Blues in four of the five games of this series, smashing them into the boards and throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Allen in net, but the Blues didn’t break. They beat the Blues on the face-off dot and in the penalty box, but couldn’t capitalize. They outshot the Blues, but couldn’t execute enough to stay out of desperation mode in Games 4 and 5.
The Wild collected 106 points during the regular season yet looked awfully human down the stretch couldn’t do enough to stop a Blues team that had played great hockey for over two months. Since Mike Yeo took over behind the bench, the Blues went all Michael Corleone on the NHL.
A few words about Magnus Paajarvi, who I called the lottery winner last year, because he stayed in the lineup despite a lack of production. 2017 was a different story for the neglected speedster. Along with his seven regular season goals, Paajarvi’s game winner came from being in the right place at the right time. He went to the net, and Vladimir Sobotka fed him the puck.
Same for Edmundson’s game winner in Game 1, where he took a sly pass from Vladimir Tarasenko and buried the puck past Devan Dubnyk. Edmundson would go on to score another in Game 2, and put together an all around solid series that included aggressive ginger love taps, good work in the defensive zone, and some key plays late in games. The kid has come a long way since last year, where he literally assisted on an opponent goal in a playoff series.
The espresso blend of this series definitely rests on the shoulders of Allen. The kid who got a new contract, stumbled around Christmas, tripped and broke his face in January, and rose from the ashes in February. It wasn’t just normal good goaltending: Jake stopped so many lethal scoring opportunities from the Wild. If he doesn’t act like a boss in the first two games, this series may be over in the sad fashion. He’s not just the MVP of this series; Allen is the MVP of the entire first round. Allen’s faced 182 shots in five games, and stopped over 95 percent. His G.A.A. was a stubborn 1.47, and he denied the Wild many happy endings. There was a lot of head shaking when these guys were going back to the bench.
The refs couldn’t even help the Wild, even if they did make a bag of bullshit calls throughout the series and appeared to have puck drop nausea in Game 4. Boudreau whined like a fat Monopoly hot tamale at several intervals of the series, but couldn’t pull a Belichick and get the call overturned. The Wild had three of the five games in their own house, and lost all of them.
After guiding these green jersey wearing thugs over the Blues two years ago, Yeo was the guy turning the dials for the Note this time around, and the changes were far more than subtle. The play of Alex Steen picked once Ken Hitchcock departed, and there he was burying the second goal this afternoon and coming close to at least two others. Bringing in Yeo sent an electric shock to the entire roster of young guns and old hands on this team to cut the shit and play better hockey. The bald Zen master won’t win coach of the year, but he should, because without Yeo, the Blues don’t make the playoffs.
Now Nashville awaits, and they won’t play nice. Pekka Rinne was as hot as Allen in helping the Predators topple the Blackhawks, and P.K. Subban brings more than a steady dose of charisma off the ice. The Predators shocked the world in round one, and will look to dispose of the Blues in round two. It was the Blues who knocked them out of the third seed in the Central Division, so there’s some extra juice there.
All I know is that I was wrong about this team. Back in late January, I called this team “a fringe playoff team” at best. I didn’t believe the Blues could get enough out of so many slumping players to make a legitimate run, and without Robby Fabbri, the task seemed too tall.
I was wrong about Sobotka. The freshly imported Czech scrap master scored the first goal of the series, and helped assist on the series clinching goal. He also produced his old style of hard ass play along the plays, on the penalty kill, and in the dirty areas of the ice where many players don’t wish to go. While his contract extension is another Armstrong head-scratcher, I applaud #71 for making big plays.
Hat tip to Alex Pietrangelo, the fearless captain who logs more minutes than anybody. He put his foot down early in the series after a period ended, vanquished plenty of opportunities for the Wild, and represented the backbone of this team. So much of what Petro does will never be seen on a score sheet, and has to be appreciated in person. He averaged 37 shifts of hockey in the series. A true brass balls defender.
Do I think the Blues can win the Stanley Cup? No. I stand by my prediction that this team won’t make it past the second round, but god damn it I’d love to be wrong. I’d love for the year where they were the least likely to succeed, the Blues would choose to kick the most ass.
Here’s what they have done: given a boost to the St. Louis region and brought in more valuable dollars that will give legs to this city. The upgrades to Scottrade Center are coming, but the playoff revenue doesn’t hurt a city reeling from the lost possibility of MLS Soccer and still missing NFL football. Sure, the Cardinals are playing down the street, but for the second straight year, the Blues are engaging in second round hockey action. In a year where they changed coaches and lost two key producers midseason, the Blues have kept the train moving forward. Without David Backes, the Blues have made it back. Again, what in the ass is going on?
Playoff hockey is going on, so appreciate it. As I sip my delicious cup of Tim Horton’s Coffee (did you hear Game Time AM on Thursday broadcasting LIVE from Lafayette Square), I send a sneer towards the cynical minds who thought the Blues would choke away a 3-0 lead or not make it at all. I send a knowing nod to the ones who told everyone to just wait and see (hey there, Patrick Blair).
I’ve told you buy extra bourbon for the past two years, but tonight, I’ll tell you to put it away and pour a cold frosty Budweiser instead. Perhaps a Four Hands American Pilsner or an Urban Chestnut Apotheosis brew. Table the whiskey and don’t touch the champagne. There’s work to do, but this feels good.
Enjoy this win. Take a couple days. Take five days. Plenty of fanbases wish they had the playoff stability of the Blues, even if the finish has never entered the building.
Right now, the Blues are riding the “you never know, so get ready” train.
Nashville, these Blues are the guy from the R-rated movie, and they have big fucking teeth and big fucking claws. They are bad men!