What version of the Blues will we see tonight in Game 6?
I wish I knew. But this team has been flaky and frustrating and unpredictable during its second-round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blues lose when we think they’ll win.
They win when we think they’re going down.
They start fast and fade.
Or they mysteriously start slowly and charge forward like the Batmobile.
The Blues have played their best hockey in Denver, winning two of three games. And that’s impressive because the Avs lost only five times at Ball Arena during the regular season, mowing down visitors for a conference-best points percentage of .829.
The Blues have played their worst hockey in St. Louis, embarrassed while going 0-2 against the Avs and getting outscored 11-5 at Enterprise Center.
When the Blues are good they channel the best attributes, much of it intangible, from the 2019 run to the Stanley Cup. And nine skaters still remain from that legendary team.
When the Blues are bad, they seem to be short on energy and emotion and urgency. Their shooting stars flame out. They get careless with the puck, are ambivalent on the forecheck, drift on the perimeter, and don’t fully engage in front of the net at either end of the ice.
If the good Blues show up, I like their chances of winning Game 6, tying the series, and giving themselves a shot at winning Game 7 in Denver. If the Blues aren’t vigilant about protecting their home on this critically important Friday evening and let the Avs rummage the place, the series ends tonight.
It’s been a weird series, and maybe it’s as simple as that.
The Blues are a big part of the weirdness. And if you look at it that way, then it’s easier to comprehend.
The road teams are 4-1.
The team that scores first in a game is 1-4.
Bruiser Colorado defenseman Josh Manson has as many goals (1) in this series as the STL’s Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, and Brandon Saad … and Manson has more goals than heralded Avs defenseman Cale Makar (0) and as many as his forward teammates Mikko Rantanen and Andre Burakovsky.
Thirty–three players (combined) from both teams scored more regular-season goals than Tyler Bozak. Heck, Klim Kostin and Logan Brown scored more often than Bozak. So in a series that features Nathan MacKinnon, Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, Makar, Rantanen, David Perron, Rantanen, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichkushkin, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Nazem Kadri, Saad and Brayden Schenn …
Well, OF COURSE Tyler Bozak would come off the bench, scrape off the barnacles and score the most important goal of the series – the overtime special that capped the astonishing STL comeback in Game 5 and kept the Blues’ hopes alive.
The Avalanche have controlled play at five-on-five, with the Blues managing only 39.6 percent of the overall shot attempts, 40.8% of the shots on net, 38% of the scoring chances, and 40% of the high-danger attempts.
But the Avs haven’t converted their immense shot totals into enough goals and the Blues have hung on and survived and taken this series to a sixth game.
And here’s a little stat snack for you: including the two overtimes the teams have played 17 periods of hockey. If you look at each period as an individual entity, the Blues have scored more goals than the Avs in eight of the 17 periods played so far. The Avs have scored more goals than the Blues in only five of the 17 periods. Four other periods were a draw. It’s a series of spontaneous combustion. Big loud noises that can create a misleading impression.
The Blues could be leading this series if Jordan Binnington didn’t commit a heinous hockey crime by laying in the goal, completely helpless, to let Saint Nazem Kadri break his knee. If you ask me, Binnington should have been suspended by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his irresponsible actions. We all know that Binnington instigated his own sprained-knee injury and Kadri was nothing more than an innocent victim who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Binnington ought to be ashamed of himself.
Before Binnington did that dirty deed to poor Kadri in Game 3, the Blues had outscored the Avs 7-4 in the series. That included their 4-1 victory in Game 2, and a 1-0 lead early in Game 3. But after Binnington intentionally wrecked his own knee and removed himself from the series – it was 100 percent Binner’s fault! – the Avs went on an 11-4 spree in goals while seizing Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis.
And then Colorado took a 3-0 lead in Game 5 … and at that point they had scored 14 of the last 18 goals banked since Binnington victimized Kadri.
That’s quite a turnaround. The Avs had all of the momentum and a 3-2 series lead and were on home ice with the crowd getting ready to dance the night away. The Blues were being written out of the postseason script … at least until their adrenal glands went berserk. And the Blues rebounded from the three-goal deficit to outscore the Avs 5-1 rest of the way to book Game 6 in The Lou.
“We’ve given them some life now, right?” Avs coach Jared Bednar said Thursday. “They’re going to come and we knew they were going to come anyway. St. Louis is a proud hockey team.”
The swings in this series have been insane. But the Blues – despite being outplayed overall – have matched Colorado’s manic eruptions. And that’s why The Note made it to the sixth game.
I don’t know how the drama will play out tonight. The Avs could come out with renewed mental focus and determination and put it all to rest. After yacking up Game 5, the Avs could come out in a fragile state and make it relatively easy for the Blues to shatter the visiting team’s confidence.
The supremely talented Avs have been cast as serial chokers for losing in the second round in each of the past three postseasons. But the Blues weren’t exactly Team Spartacus in Games 3 and 4 at home.
The goaltenders are crucial actors on the Game 6 stage. Blue Ville Husso outplayed a shaky Darcy Kuemper in Game 5, and now he must do it again.
Both teams have shown vulnerability in this series, but the Avs are dealing with more pressure – simply because this series should have been filed into history on Wednesday night. And the Avalanche, as usual, couldn’t close the deal. It’s still unbelievable — and inexcusable — that Colorado blew a three-goal lead with a marvelous chance to terminate the Blues.
That said, Colorado has two opportunities to win one game. The Blues have no such luxury; lose Friday night and it’s closing time. Turn out the lights on the season. And maybe the Blues will play with the same urgency we watched in Game 5 when they finally seemed to understand that they were about to be knocked out. The Blues face more pressure tonight because they won’t have a second chance. But if the Blues can take care of their home by defeating the Avs in Game 6, all of the pressure will be on the Colorado side in Game 7.
Will Colorado collapse in the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season?
Can the Blues avoid another bizarre meltdown at home?
Do the Blues have what it takes to push the Avs over the edge?
I don’t know, but I’d sure like to see the Blues get this melodrama back to Denver for Game 7 so we can all find out.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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