About the Blues …
A 4-0-1 record against Minnesota in five meetings since April 9 was a timely boost for a team of coaches and players were searching for a better version of themselves. Not only did the success put the Blues in commanding position to draw clear and make the playoffs — but the Blues also remembered what they must do to win in the playoffs.
The same theory applies to their back-to-back wins over Colorado late last month. But let’s stick with the Blues’ performance during the stretch of five games against the Wild. Except for the Blues’ 9-1 walkover on April 9 at Enterprise Center, it was close. Really close. And even with the rout baked in, there wasn’t much separation between the teams at even strength or at five-on-five.
The Blues outscored the Wild 17-13 at even personnel, 14-10 at five-on-five and 24-14 at all strengths. Really, we can make the case for three decisive factors: Special teams, goaltending on close-range shots, and balanced scoring.
The Blues had five power play goals and two shorthanded goals against Minnesota, and allowed only one PP goal. That’s a massive 7-1 edge on the special teams. There’s nothing else to add except to reaffirm the critical importance of special-teams play.
Second, the Blues’ goaltending tandem of Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso was far superior than the Minnesota goalies when faced with high-danger shots from the crease or slot. The Blues had the best of it in the overall goaltending performance, but it was a no-contest from the high-danger shooting area.
Minnesota had more chances to strike from close range, but the Wild’s huge advantage in opportunities was nullified by the money work of Binnington and Husso.
I’ll use just one set of quickie stats from even-strength play to show you what I’m talking about …
Despite having only 42.6 percent of the total high-danger shots over the five games, the Blues outscored the Wild 10-3 on high-danger goals.
That’s incredible. How did it happen? This: St. Louis goaltenders had a phenomenal .893 save percentage on HD shots compared to a .565 HD save rate on the Minnesota side.
As mentioned, the Blues spread the scoring around by getting goals from 12 players in the five games vs. Minnesota. And as we learned in 2019, this can be an essential strength in the postseason.
Ryan O’Reilly had six goals, Mike Hoffman whipped in four, and Sammy Blais scored three times. Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Jaden Schwartz each contributed two. There were single goals from four other players … but none at all from Brayden Schenn or Vladimir Tarasenko. I’m not pointing that out to take a shot at Schenn and Tarasenko; it’s just a good sign to see the Blues go 4-0-1 in a pressure sequence of games against the Wild without the benefit of a goal from two guys who are paid big money to score. And David Perron did his part in the five games with a goal and five assists.
Close games. Excellent close-range goaltending. Superb special teams. The Blues disappointed in these areas for much of the season but turned the problems into positives to cultivate success in these test runs vs. the Wild.
Now … after sharing all of that sunshine, I want to close with this:
If the Blues nail down fourth place and make it to the postseason, they’ll have to play better in the Stanley Cup tournament. They’ve skated a thin line against Vegas, Colorado and Minnesota this season — often outshot and usually on the short side in the number of high-danger chances.
In the first six encounters between the rivals, Vegas punished the Blues, outscoring St. Louis 22-11 at even strength. (They’ll play two more times before the end of the regular season.)
But the Blues overcame shot deficits to outscore Colorado 15-13 at even strength over eight games. That’s impressive. But the Blues lost five of the eight games, so they’ll have to do a lot more if the teams square off in the postseason.
Including the first game played between the teams this season, the Blues outscored Minnesota 17-15 at even strength in six meetings. (They’ll play two more vs. the Wild, on May 12 and 13.)
If the Blues elbow into the playoffs, they’ll likely face Vegas or Colorado in the first round — but let’s include Minnesota in the discussion, anyway. The Blues have shown that they can hang with these teams, and prevail. The Blues are a combined 9-9-2 vs. the three teams ahead of them in the West division standings. And the Blues have generally done an effective job of patrolling the other side’s top scoring line — though that was more of a challenge against Vegas.
That said, the Blues can’t traipse into the bad habit of falling behind and chasing the game. And they can’t seize the lead only to bungle away the advantage. Shaky goaltending would be fatal to the Blues. A relapse on special teams would likely spell doom.
There’s still so much work to be done. But at least the Blues have put in the extra work and effort to find themselves and solve their flaws. And that’s why they’re pushing their way into the playoffs
Parting shot: It’s closing time. There are only seven regular-season games to go. And it’s no time to ease up. Blues, please do not screw up these next two home games against 16-29-9 Anaheim. Or I’ll have to write mean things again.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s 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 live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.