The Blues didn’t make a move at the NHL trade deadline, and that’s because they made their move before the deadline.
Disposing of a seven-game winless streak and an onerous load of frustration, the Blues took on Vegas and grabbed a win. Next came a two-night tussle with Minnesota, and the Blues seized two more victories. The first by a 9-1 rout, the next with a theatrical rally and a thrilling beat-the-clock overtime goal by Ryan O’Reilly.
A three-game winning streak. A plus 11 goal differential. Goals from nine different Blues. A point or more by 16 Blues. There was a timely awakening by enigmatic forward Mike Hoffman, the rising of injured defenseman Colton Parayko, the end of a goal-scoring slump by Jaden Schwartz, and a gleaming .962 save percentage from goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso.
The Blues went back to Berube Basics. We saw intensified urgency and a renewed commitment to work. The Blues played heavier and harder. They reclaimed the Enterprise Center and sharpened a home-ice edge.
Memories of the furious finish in 2019.
All of this was a big deal … so GM Doug Armstrong made no deals.
Army let his roster ride.
“I think (Army has) done a good job of putting the pieces in front of us,” Binnington said earlier this week. “It’s good. We’re really coming together in the locker room and it’s been a long season. We’ve had a lot of adversity. It’s about staying composed and really playing hard for each other and playing together. Hopefully we can do that in the final stretch here.”
The Blues begin their final advance on Wednesday night at home, facing off against the preposterously talented Colorado Avalanche. With 15 regular-season games to go, the Blues lead fifth-place Arizona by a point, and sixth-place San Jose by four points. The Blues have two games in hand on Arizona, and the teams are set to clash Saturday in Glendale.
The top four teams in the West qualify for the postseason tournament, so the Blues must try to strengthen their hold on fourth place. That’s the mission. That’s the only thing that matters right now.
The St. Louis schedule is menacing, with 11 of the final 15 games coming against Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota — the three dons of the division. By comparison Arizona has only five games left against the three tsars.
It won’t be easy, but this is nothing new. It’s been a season of emergencies and deflated morale. The Blues have lost 201 man games to injury, experienced a run of unsteady goaltending, suffered through goal-scoring starvation, and flopped at home. And that’s just a partial list of calamities.
Did the adversity make them tougher and stronger? We’ll find out. Then again, the Blues will likely cope with additional ordeals between now and the end of the 56th game.
In 2021, trouble always seems to find them. But with a much healthier roster, enhanced confidence, tighter goaltending and expectations of increased goal production, the Blues insist they’re ready to take their best shot. This is exactly what the GM wants. It would help if Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, Jordan Kyrou, Schwartz and Hoffman get molten-lava hot at the right time and pump up the Blues’ hopes with goals.
“You want so much for the players to experience playoff hockey. You want so much for them to maximize the most in their careers,” Armstrong said Monday after the trade deadline had passed. “I don’t want to say that I was any more frustrated than the coaches were, or any more frustrated than the players were. It was a collective frustration, but also a collective understanding that nobody really cares if you’re frustrated or not. If you start to feel sorry for yourself or, God forbid, you’re willing to say ‘We’ll get them next year.’ If I had felt that was the indication, then there would have been a lot of player movement because our jobs are to fight to the bitter end until they tell us to stop fighting.”
The Blues (19-6-6) will head straight into the tempest by playing Colorado four times in their next five games. The Avalanche (29-9-4) streak into the Blues building with a blistering 16-1-2 record since March 10.
During their current 19-game rush to the NHL’s top record, The Avs have outscored opponents 80-39 overall, and 64-26 at even strength. The No. 1 line of Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen has outscored rival lines by a ridiculous 38-8 in the 19 games. And for the entire season, McKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen have outscored the other side by a ginormous margin of 59-16.
“Obviously it’s always exciting and fun, a great opportunity to play against the best players in the league,” Blues center Tyler Bozak said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “You have to play your best to succeed in those situations and even if you play your best, sometimes they’re going to find their ways to create opportunities and score goals.
“That’s what the best players in the league do. It’s always a fun challenge, something that I’m pretty sure everyone prides themselves on is playing against guys of that caliber and shutting them down. It’s definitely not an easy task. Those guys, you can definitely tell by their points throughout the year that they don’t get shut down often. You just want to limit their opportunities as much as you can.”
If the Blues have a serious ambition to barge into the playoffs and flip superior teams through a sequence of upsets, the crew from Colorado offers an immediate test run. The winning streak changed the outlook of the Blues and their GM. But the three-game turnaround was brief, and you just don’t know if it can last. Here we go.
Thanks for reading …
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