Any way you dissect it the Blues will be a tough team to bounce in a seven game series. How far they take this remains to be seen.
People still evaluate the Blues as lacking experience that doesn’t match up with the teams we’re used to seeing atop the Western Conference.
Considering they finished the season with 109 points they shouldn’t be considered an underdog against any club they face moving forward.
This may be new territory for a number of players inside the dressing room but it’s pretty familiar to Ken Hitchcock. He and Doug Armstrong have been down this road before and should be able to keep the rest of the organization relatively even. Getting out of the first round is an accomplishment but the goal for the organization goes well beyond just winning a playoff series.
It’s ok to celebrate a series win and there was plenty of excitement in the Blues dressing room after the game, but it was controlled excitement. I got the sense the players were happier about not having to jump back on a plane than they were about eliminating San Jose.
The last thing they wanted to do was endure another four hour flight.
The Blues took care of business in relatively quick fashion needing only five games to advance to the second round. That’s some pretty efficient hockey when you consider who they just took down. The Sharks are a team built for the playoffs, or so they say. The players say it felt like a much longer series and they will use the next few days to allow the puncture wounds to heal.
Players deserve the credit…
I always feel the summer is the General Manager’s season. That’s his time to build the most competitive roster possible. The GM can still tweak things during the year with trades and so forth but the team is pretty much turned over to the coaching staff once training camp begins. It's the coaching staff’s responsibility to put the team a position to make the playoffs and ultimately win a championship.
Obviously the scouting staff plays a role but I'm focusing purely on what takes place in St. Louis during the course of the year.
Once the playoffs begin everything is virtually turned over to the players. Of course the coaching staff has a tremendous impact in terms of preparing and motivating 20 guys, but it comes down to the players getting the job done. You can have all the meetings and video you want but come playoff time these guys have a pretty firm understanding of what it takes.
This is the player’s time.
It’s a pretty good mix of players the Blues have. Hard to find a player that doesn’t understand his role and hasn’t accepted it for the better of the team. Hitchcock mentioned after Game 5 that his group has fully bought in to the style they need to play to be successful. I don’t disagree with what he’s saying but in my opinion this is just the way this group plays.
From top to bottom most of these guys bring a pitbull approach to the ice. Guys like David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Sobotka, Scott Nichol, and Jamie Langenbrunner are far from system players. It doesn’t matter who’s behind the bench, they only know one way to play the game.
This opens the door for the Andy McDonald’s, Alex Steen’s, Patrik Berglund’s and David Perron’s to play the only way they know how to play as well.
Can’t live with him, can’t live without him?
Is that how the saying goes? It’s only fitting Perron would score the game winner Saturday night. He knows he should have played things differently on the lone San Jose goal but he made up for it in a hurry.
This is what you get with Perron. For every mistake he makes he’ll reward you twice as much. It’s the good coach’s who understand this. You have to stick with this guy and play through whatever bumps you might endure along the way. He can make a coach look good in a hurry if you stay with him.
Perron has seen firsthand how demanding Hitchcock can be as a Head Coach. That’s probably the right approach you need to take with Perron. Others in the past have been scared, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the good he brings to the table. Hitchcock may get frustrated at times but you can say that with just about every other player. In the past Perron might not have seen the ice after making a defensive error early in the game. Having confidence in him worked out for Hitchcock and the rest of the organization.
Blues play one way….
You don’t see too many highlight reel goals scored by the Blues. The Oshie pass to Backes in Game 2 is the exception rather than the norm. How many teams leading scorer also leads the team in hits? The Blues have that in Backes.
What we saw in the third period is how the Blues played virtually the entire year. The Blues have four lines that basically play the same style. Certain players may have a little more ability than others when it comes to making plays in space but this was a perfect example of how tough the Blues are to play against. Just when you think you have the game won you’re trailing less than a minute later.
It felt like a Game 7 Saturday night. Both teams were fighting for every inch and the game could have gone either way.
It fits the Blues persona for the fourth line to get the party started. This is the second straight game the Blues got offense from a fourth line player.
Jamie Langenbrunner took full advantage of an Antti Niemi fumble and quickly pounced on the lose puck to tie the score. Scoring big goals in the playoffs is nothing new to Langenbrunner. He played on the biggest stage early in his NHL career and has a knack for scoring big goals. It’s no accident either, he’s the type of player you need on your team if you want to win when it matters. Nichol had a tremendous series as well leading the team in hits and winning nearly 60% of his face-offs.
All Underrated Team…
Sure guys like McDonald and Steen may headline this list but Vladimir Sobotka may be the Captain. For as good as the Stewart, Shattenkirk trade was this one may even be better. At least in the Colorado deal the Blues packaged two pretty good players in Erik Johnson and Jay McClement. The Blues gave up former fourth rounder David Warsofsky for Sobotka. Are you kidding me?
Sobotka is the perfect compliment for who the Blues are. He’s a firecracker on the ice and again is a perfect playoff player. He can make a play, finishes checks, responsible all over the ice, versatile, and competes like a dog. That's a lot of mileage you get out of a player barely making $1 million.
Sobotka has stayed on the ice working with Nichol to improve in the face off circle and it’s paid dividends winning a team best 63.5% during the series. Sobotka tells me he expects to win a face of, deliver a hit, and record a shot on goal every shift. You can pretty much expect at least two out of three every time he hops over the boards.
I asked Ken Hitchcock his thoughts on Chris Stewart and he’s thrilled with the way he’s played the last two games. Stewart tells me it was Tommy Wingels that wanted to fight and asked if he wanted to go. Dare we say Wingels opened the door? Hitchcock (while laughing) tells me he’s not going there again.
Halak ready for second round?
Obviously the sooner Jaro Halak can begin practicing the better. He was expected to skate on Sunday for the first time since injuring his ankle and the Blues hope he’s ready to go. You have to feel bad for Halak as there was nothing he could do to avoid the injury. For now his focus should solely be on getting healthy and preparing to play whenever he’s needed. It’s safe to say Brian Elliott has the ball and will continue to run with it.
There is no controversy here. This is a completely different situation than what you see in Vancouver for example. Both these guys have been playing all season and it should come as no surprise that it’s carried over into the playoffs. Halak will see the net again.
I’m giving it to Andy McDonald who registered point in every game and is playing as well as any player in the world right now. Brian Elliot and David Backes received votes (from me) as well. Some may suggest Backes had a down series considering his offensive numbers are down. I’m not buying it, what this guy did in terms of the minutes he played and the responsibility he had not only 5-5 but on the PK and the PP, I thought he was strong.
Every series is like a new season, don’t be surprised if Backes is the Blues best player next round. I’ll have more on Backes on Monday.
D-man Alex Pietrangelo is ok after taking Martin Havlat shot in the foot. He was hit just seconds later and I have no clue why a penalty wasn’t called on the play. Pietrangelo averages 34.8 shifts per game in the playoffs, second only to Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
He leads the Blues with 18 blocked shots, and over 26 minutes per game. He averaged just over 20 minutes of even strength ice in the first round series.
The Blues lead all playoff teams in goals against at 1.60 per game, have the second best PP at 33.3% and are fifth in the NHL with a 88.2% PK.
The Blues top six D-men combined for 67 blocked shots in the five games. The Sharks seven D-men they used combined for 35 blocks.
Kevin Shattenkirk had an excellent third period as he was as aggressive as we’ve seen since the series opener. Jackman and Shattenkirk didn’t have a great series overall and their ice time was cut as a result. Roman Polak and Kris Russell played top four minutes the last two games.
Niemi Shoulders Blame...
Antti Niemi left the rink with his head down. I enjoyed getting to know him this series as he's a good young player who had his moments during the series. Walking out of the rink he said to me "Two bad goals, it was the difference."
I’ll be talking Blues on the St. Louis NBC affiliate tonight (channel 5).
More to come,
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