The Blues are hockey historians. The boys went into Minnesota on Monday evening and brought 2019 with them, blanking the Wild 4-0 in Game 1 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

The four goals were scored by David Perron (3) and Ryan O’Reilly (1) – two key members of the 2019 team that charged into the postseason to win 16 games and the Stanley Cup. Perron added an assist, O’Reilly added an assist, and the linemates combined for six points to drain the energy at the Xcel Energy Center

Straight outta 2019.

Brayden Schenn had an assist and brought the spirit of 2019 to the competition by crashing into Wild players with an aggression that caused considerable annoyance for the home team.

Straight outta 2019.

The Blues also stopped the Wild with a 2019-era performance by their inexperienced but deadly-cool goaltender in his first career postseason NHL start. Back in 2019, Jordan Binnington went into Winnipeg for his first-ever NHL playoff game, blocked 24 of 25 shots, and led the Blues to 2-1 victory. Ville Husso did even better in his first test of postseason pressure, denying Minnesota on all 37 shots on goal. Husso made history as the first Blues goaltender to pitch a shutout in his playoff debut.

Straight outta 2019.

But here’s the thing … unlike most of the games played in that memorable 2019 postseason run, the Blues were dominated at five-on-five play. The Wild raced around, making plays and unloading shots, building the kind of advantage that should have produced a win – or at least a tight game.

At five on five the Wild had 72 percent of the shots directed on net, 60.5% of the shots on goal, 73% of the scoring chances, and 75% of the high-danger shots. Based on those shot volume and quality.

In the second period, the Wild’s vigorous five-on–five control resulted in 69 percent of the shots on goal, an 8-1 edge in scoring chances, and a 7-0 supremacy on high-danger shots.

Overall the Wild have a five-on-five expected goals-scored share of 61.8 percent.

Except … they didn’t score at all. And despite their large deficit in shots, the Blues outscored the Wild 2-0 at five on five – continuing the pattern we Blues established against opponents for much of the regular season. You know: give up more shots and chances and high-danger attempts – and still score more goals than the other side, anyway. So you can take those advanced metrics and shove them into an ice-fishing hole on a frozen Minnesota lake.

In writing a preview of this series, I pointed to the likely dominance of the Wild at five on five, stated my concern that the Blues would allow too many prime-area shots, and give their talented opponent too many chances to score. And that happened.

I added that Husso would have to be spectacular and erect a five-on-five blockade, and that the special teams would give the Blues a significant advantage – as long as the officials used their whistles and called penalties. If the Blues could use their superior special teams to wipe out the Wild’s pathetically inferior special teams, then St. Louis had a helluva chance to win. But I just didn’t know how the refs would call the game. And because of that, I couldn’t assume that special teams would be as much of a factor as anticipated.

Well, the Wild had many more chances to score goals than the Blues … and that includes the sweet-spot chances that are the most dangerous for a goaltender.

Well, Husso was absolutely spectacular, stopping all 12 high-danger shots that the Wild pelted him with. Husso outplayed three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury, who had a .867 save percentage at five on five, and a .871 save rate overall. According to Natural Stat Trick, Husso was credited with 3.0 goals saved above average; Fleury was below average with minus 1.49 goals saved.

This wasn’t a no-sweat night of work for Husso. The Wild brought a volume of high-danger threats. They also had six power-play chances that put sent another15 unblocked shots in Husso’s direction. In all situations Minnesota challenged Husso 53 unblocked shots, and 37 reached the net. Nothing rattled Husso. Nothing got by Husso.

Well, the special-teams differential did surface, and did matter, and was essential in the St. Louis triumph. Minnesota flubbed six power-play opportunities. The Blues scored two power-play goals – and another goal that came a couple of seconds after the PP expired … which means that the power-play setup was still in place.

“That’s our season. Our special teams have not been very good,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said. “For us to have success, we’ve got to stay out of the box and we’ve got to play five-on-five because we really, really liked our game five-on-five.”

I didn’t think the Blues’ regular-season ownership of the Wild would carry over … and I was wrong about that. With Monday’s latest zing, the Blues are 10-1-1 against the Wild since the start of last season.

Monday, the Blues had the Wild flustered and frustrated and eager to do something stupid to retaliate when St. Louis poked and prodded. The Blues were determined to disrupt and distract the home team with assorted shenanigans. And it worked.

Jordan Greenway – he of the recently famous “GREEF” line – was out of control, and the Blues exploited his temper for two penalties that set up a pair of power play scores. The gentlemanly defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who gets Lady Byng votes, lost it late by cross-checking the back of Pavel Buchnevich’s left ankle when the winger was down on the ice and vulnerable. Spurgeon, the Wild’s captain, was fined $5,000 by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Tuesday. He should have been suspended for Game 2.

“We’ve got to play between the whistles and forget about the crap,” Evason said. “We don’t need to do that. They’re avoidable penalties.”

After the horrendous result in Game 1, the Wild tried to convince themselves that all would be swell. Nothing to worry about! They tried to reassure themselves that the Blues were there to be taken down. No problem!

“We just got to understand that there’s really not much pressure,” winger Marcus Foligno said. “We know we can beat this team and to get a split going back to St. Louis is the goal now. That’s the message to stay with it and be positive like we’ve been all year.”

There was a strange quote from winger Kevin Fiala.

“You can’t say we didn’t try,” he said after the game.

Give the man some orange slices, and maybe a couple of cookies. An “A” for effort, and all of that.

The Wild will come out like crazies in Game 2 Wednesday night. But didn’t they do that in Game 1? Yes, and they lost by four goals. And it could have been worse. Fleury rejected Ivan Barbashev on a penalty shot. The Blues’ lethal line of Robert Thomas, Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko had only 10 percent of shot attempts, 20% of the shots on goal, 16.7% of the scoring chances, and 33% of the high-danger attempts when competing at five on five.

What happens if that line breaks loose? Buchnevich is fearless. Tarasenko and Thomas are veterans of the 2019 run. They will be heard from.

Other Nineteeners were fantastic for the Blues on Monday night. At five on five the O’Reilly, Perron and Brandon Saad had an 8-3 advantage in shots on goal and outscored the Wild 2-0.

When the Blues opened their 2019 playoff escapade with that 2-1 win at Winnipeg, Perron scored one of the goals. It’s fitting that he was back at it again, giving the Blues an early jump in another postseason, taking a piece of 2019 and breaking it into three pieces – three goals – to get the Blues rolling again.

The 2019 Blues went 10-3 on the road during the postseason. So the new journey began Monday with a similar conquest, and the Blues’ richer postseason experience was an element in the win over the Wild.

It’s only one win, yes. One win in a best-of-seven series against a team that had a 111-point regular season. But it was a big win for the Blues. A big win for a team that had gone 2-11 in the postseason – trounced by a 52-29 goal margin – since winning the Stanley Cup. The remaining Ninteeners, all 10 of them, are ready for a new start.

Thanks for reading …


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