The Blues performed a merciful act on Sunday afternoon. With passion and love of The Lou in their hearts, the undermanned squad calmed the village and made their peoples happy with a 5-2 victory over the lamplighting Minnesota Wild.
Down 2-1 in the best-o-seven series after being stomped by a combined 11-3 score in the two previous games, the Blues needed this win to restore order … and to restore sanity. Before the Blues made corrections and refilled their gas tanks, the fans and local media were in a full-blown tizzy. It was a combination of anxiety, anger and angst.
The Blues had no answers for the Wild’s flying machine. Their battered group of defensemen had suffered damaging casualties. Coach Craig Berube was madly rearranging lines and swapping bodies.
Friday’s especially traumatic 5–1 tossing by Minnesota put this hockey town in a freak-out mode. Memories were erased. Many apparently believed the Blues had never been walloped in the postseason before … you know, except for 2019 when they won the Stanley Cup despite going 6-7 at home and losing three times at Enterprise Center by three or more goals.
A quick search of the interwebs turned up these reactions by tilting loyalists:
– “Doug Armstrong and Craig Berube Are On The Clock.” (You mean, fire them during the series? How bold.)
– “Start the Rebuild Now.” (Can we wait until the end of the series — or should the tear-down begin immediately?)
– “Berube is a problem.” (Yeah. He’s never won anything here, and everybody knows that the 2019 Cup-winning Blues were really Mike Yeo’s team. What a fraud.)
– “Tarasenko is minus 24 in playoff games.” (Bernie Federko was a minus 21 for the Blues in the postseason, and he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But Vladdy’s 36 career postseason goals for the Blues are worthless, eh?)
The only example of connected-to-reality wailing that could be heard in the pleading for coach Berube to start goaltender Jordan Binnington in Game 4 Sunday. Binnington, of course was trashed by 90 percent of the fans during the season, as they quit on him to give their devotion to Ville Husso – who saved the season. But now it was Husso’s time to be sent to the bench in favor of the great Binner.
At least that decision paid off. Not that Husso deserved to be benched. But Binnington has won a Stanley Cup, and the Blues have two good goaltenders, and it makes sense to utilize all resources. Berube deserves credit for that.
Binnington wasn’t the main reason why the Blues won Game 4 to even the series 2-2 … but he absolutely played a major role, especially over the final two periods. The Wild tried to make him crack, and the score tightened to 3-2, but Binnington would not flinch. It was good stuff.
The Blues have to win this series at five-on-five, and they haven’t done enough to get it done in a long-haul series. But that doesn’t mean they can’t win it, anyway. They’ve been doing this all season, frequently losing the territorial battle for volume and quality of shots – but scoring more goals than the other side, anyway.
Through the first four games at five on five the Wild has 52 percent of the overall shot attempts, 53% of the shots on goal, 59% of the high-danger scoring chances. And the Wild has 60 percent (9 to 6) of the five on five goals. But the total numbers are less meaningful if the Blues can break through the Wild swarm and score more five on five goals to pull out victories in individual games … hopefully four individual games. And the Blues are halfway there.
The Blues outscored Minnesota 2-0 at five on five in Game 1, and eked out a 3-2 edge at five on five in Game 4. In the middle two games the Wild eviscerated the Blues with a 7-1 blistering at five on five.
I wrote this before the series, and it still holds true: the Wild has a significant advantage at five on five. They have more possession time, get a lot more shots on goal, and set themselves up for more dangerous shots from the shooter’s sweet spot.
From the Blues’ standpoint it comes down to this: will the levee break? They can’t slow the flow of the Wild. Not for lengthy periods of time, anyway. So the levee must hold. That’s the responsibility of the goaltender – and everyone.
Over the first four games the Blues had a five on five goal expectancy of 41 percent. That tells us just how dominant Minnesota has been at five on five. But a team can dominate at five on five and still lose. The Wild did that in Game 1, and again in Game 4. A team can be overrun and still find a way to snatch wins. And the Blues have done that twice so far.
Now they have to do it two more times in what has evolved into a best-of-three clash. The STL goaltending must be great. They need more from top players including Robert Thomas, Brayden Schenn and the Russian delegation. Hopefully the Blues will have defensemen Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo back for Game 5 in St. Paul.
It’s imperative for the Blues to smother the Wild power play – and keep their own PP pumping out goals. Through four games, Minnesota is 2 for 17 on the power play, with both goals coming in Game 2. The Blues have scored a PP goal in each game and are 5 for 18 in the series. Those trends must hold.
But really it comes down to the Blues’ metaphorical levee. It will break, or it will hold. This task will require tremendous resolve, an opportunistic set of STL snipers that can stun and rattle the Wild. The Blues that won it all in 2019 displayed an inspiring ability of bouncing back and fighting back when knocked down. You could get that team in trouble, and they always found a way to overcome the adversity – be it the next shift, the next period, or the next game.
That’s what I’ll be watching for in the coming days. Does this team have the competitive character to withstand the Wild’s top-level performance at five on five? We’re about to find out. And it’s exciting.
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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com