For the first time since Hall of Famers Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis were patrolling the blue line, the St. Louis Blues are going back to the Western Conference Final. It’s been 15 years between trips to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a lot of heartache in between.
The Blues remain the last of the NHL’s still-active franchises from its first round of expansion in 1967 to not have won the Stanley Cup. By dispatching the Dallas Stars in a dominant 6-1 victory in Game 7 of their second-round series Wednesday night, they’re a step closer to returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since three trips in their first three years of existence.
Long-suffering doesn’t even begin to describe this franchise. But now they have a team they can believe in. Now that they’ve finally escaped the first two rounds, now that they’ve eliminated the two other teams that occupied the top three of the Central Division with them, the Blues have hope.
Hope can be a dangerous thing, but we just saw the Blues tempt fate and live, having to play the full seven games of each of their first two series. Each time, they saved their best for last and helped quash the narrative that they couldn’t get the job done in the postseason.
The Blues are far from done and shouldn’t be at all satisfied with just making it to the conference final. They won’t be, but getting there is a huge accomplishment, considering who they had to go through to get there and carrying the weight of the expectations this season created.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons the Blues have been able to get over the second-round hump:
1. Brian Elliott‘s goaltending continues to be a driving force in their success: When you look at any good playoff team, you’re likely looking at a team with a good goaltender. Elliott has been just that for the Blues as they continue their march towards the Stanley Cup.
The veteran goalie, finally trusted to be the No. 1 at the most important time of the season, was brilliant in Game 7. He made 31 saves, including several big-time stops earlier in the game before the Blues put it away.
Over his 14 playoff starts, Elliott has a .929 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average. He is considered by many of his teammates as their MVP so far in this postseason. Elliott’s performance is definitely a big reason why this version of the Blues has not suffered the same fate as previous ones.
2. The depth of scoring talent on this roster is unlike any of the previous Blues teams:Three dangerous scoring lines, reliable defensemen and a bona fide No. 1 goaltender is making this the most complete Blues team in recent memory. However, it’s the Blues’ ability to get goals from all over their lineup that has a lot to do with their success so far.
Six players are in double-digit points already, featuring at least one player from each of their first three lines and one defenseman. Nineteen of the 21 players that have suited up for the Blues in these playoffs have at least one point, while eight have scored three or more goals.
Vladimir Tarasenko is unsurprisingly at the top of the Blues’ stats sheet with seven goals and 13 points. However, he is joined at the top by rookie Robby Fabbri, who at 20 years old, is having a sensational postseason with a team-best 10 assists to go along with his three goals.
To have success in the postseason, it doesn’t matter where the points are coming from, so long as they keep coming. The Blues have three lines that they can throw over the boards and have complete faith that they’ll at least be a threat to score.
David Backes has six goals, surpassing his career postseason total coming into this year’s playoffs, while playing in more of a third-line role. The captain also has two overtime game-winners and is third on the team with 12 points.
The real revelation of the postseason, however, has been the line that features Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer. That trio of players has accounted for 32 points so far in these playoffs. Getting production from guys like Tarasenko is huge, but having your other lines clicking as they have been, goes a long way.
3. The Blues kept making adjustments: If there’s one thing the series against the Stars proved, it’s that the Blues can make the adjustments necessary to win. They pretty much had to hit the reset button right out the gates after Dallas was flying in Game 1. The Blues looked completely caught off guard by it.
In Game 2, St. Louis got off to a better start, but then tried to sit on a 3-1 lead and pretty much stopped attacking. That turned out to be a huge mistake in tactics. The Stars came back before the Blues ended up winning in overtime. From that point on, they figured out that sitting back against the Stars wasn’t an option.
There was no need to play that way because they have the personnel that can play an attacking style, which is what we saw so much more of throughout the series after that Game 2 scare. Hitchcock is conservative in his tactics by nature, but this series forced them into being more aggressive.
The Blues went out and smoked the Stars 6-1 in Game 3. They ended up suffering close losses in Games 4 and 6, but rarely did St. Louis fall into their conservative shell again. The end result was 25 goals scored over the seven games, including another 6-1 win in Game 7.
They found the style that will make them difficult to contain for any team, should they choose to continue to play that way.
4. Doug Armstrong’s patience is being rewarded: There were calls for GM Doug Armstrong to blow things up and start over after the team got bounced by the Minnesota Wild in the first round last year. It was expected that he’d fire Hitchcock and maybe trade a core player or two away.
While Armstrong did make a core move, shipping out T.J. Oshie to help alleviate some cap space for Tarasenko’s extension that he signed a little later in the summer, he left most of the rest of the roster untouched.
The reason Armstrong could do that was because he had some prospects in the pipeline that would be able to fill some of the holes.
Those prospects ended up exceeding expectations. As noted, Fabbri is tied for the team lead in playoff scoring. He became the youngest player in NHL history to register three points in a Game 7. Defenseman Colton Parayko stepped right into a top-four role. He has five points and is averaging over 20 minutes a game this postseason. Joel Edmundson has played a lesser role, but has a goal in these playoffs and offers defensive depth.
On top of all that, the player the team acquired for Oshie has been one of their other top postseason performers. Troy Brouwer has 10 points in the playoffs including a goal in each of the two Game 7s they’ve played in. As the only player on the Blues roster with his name on the Stanley Cup, he’s been outstanding.
Armstrong very easily could have started shedding pieces off last year’s roster to try and change up the mix. He chose patience instead and the team is rewarding him for it.
Story provided by Chris Peters