What was the point of getting on the airplane? The series was over, right? Down three games to one to a superior opponent, humiliated at home in two consecutive losses, the Blues made the trip to Denver. They were boarding a flight to nowhere. Didn’t they know this?
Who really believed the Blues would beat the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5 to fend off elimination and bring this second-round series back to St. Louis?
And to make the impossible possible in Game 5, the Blues had to erase Colorado’s 3-0 lead, recover from Nathan MacKinnon’s ridiculous hat trick and phenomenal third goal, and defy a win probability that had plummeted to only five percent in the third period.
The situation was bleak. Avalanche fans were at a fever pitch, about to turn Ball Arena into a Let’s Have A Ball Arena. Prepare the celebration. Ice the champagne. It’s onto the next round and the Western Conference final.
What are y’all still doing here?
The Blues were supposed to fall but refused to go down. They did the opposite by rising above everything that had set up their imminent demise. The morale-draining two–game losing streak that put them on the brink of failure. The ominous three-goal deficit and the spectacle of MacKinnon’s dominance in Game 5. The environment of a hostile, jacked-up arena and the noise of 18,000 fans. The continuation of their bafflingly disappointing team play through most of the first two periods. The ineffectiveness of a roster loaded with scorers that had gone cold.
There was only one way out of this: fill their hearts and minds with desperation, and push through the storms. Desperation can drive a person to defeat their fears and turn weakness into strength in a way that stretches their capacity to achieve the remarkable.
This generation of Blues players came up with their own incredible version of the Monday Night Miracle, scoring five of the game’s final six goals to shock the Avs, and Avs fans – and rejoicing Blues fans back home – with a 5-4 overtime triumph that belongs with the most improbable victories ever brought forth by a St. Louis sports franchise.
This Monday Night Miracle it just happened to occur on a Wednesday. A wild and wonderful Wednesday that can lead to a highly unlikely series upset. The odds are still very much against the Blues as this series moves forward – but wasn’t that the case in Game 5?
Desperation can make a person do amazing things, unexpected things, brave things. Desperation can create energy, determination, hope and opportunity. Desperation can turn the darkness into rays of light.
“You’ve got nothing to lose, so you might as well throw it all out there,” said Blues center Robert Thomas, who scored his second goal of this absolutely crazy night to tie the game 4-4 with 56 seconds remaining in regulation. “I think that was our mentality. It seemed to work tonight.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored his first goal of the series with just over five minutes remaining in the second period to make it 3-1. This stirred the Blues, yes. But even after Tarasenko’s goal Colorado had a formidable win probability of 88 percent. The Blues had pushed back … but only slightly.
In the third period the Blues continued to increase their offensive zone time and presence near the blue paint in front of Avs goaltender Darcy Kuemper. At the other end, Blues goaltender Ville Husso made a bunch of money saves, which added more belief to a team that suddenly appeared confident.
The Blues refilled their pride and leaned hard into their championship lineage, and the laid-back Avalanche seemed startled by the turnabout. Except for MacKinnon, the Avs lost their aggressiveness and started dumping the puck into the STL zone instead of skating it in like a team in charge.
The emboldened Blues drew even (3-3) on goals by Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. The Blues had found their way back. They had found their team personality, and their preferred style of game. The Avalanche found themselves in unexpected trouble.
“They played with more desperation than us in the second half of the game,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after Game 5. “The last six, eight minutes, they’re on a push and they’re pressing down with us, and we made some mistakes with the puck. We didn’t get pucks out. We had pucks on our stick. They had that desperation to keep plays alive.”
MacKinnon did his best to break the Blues’ will with a dynamic bullet-train dash from end to end, scoring a breathtakingly gorgeous goal for a 4-3 lead with just 2 minutes and 46 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Blues had poured everything into a valiant comeback, but the magnificent MacKinnon lifted his team and raised the arena roof. After he scored, the Avs had a win probability of 94.7 percent.
If the Blues were destined to go down and out, at least they’d lose on a magnificent goal by one of the best hockey players in the world. That would be easier to take than losing a game and getting eliminated on a fluke garbage goal.
It was doom and gloom for the Blues until … boom!
Thomas scored on a crease-edge rebound with just under a minute left and the momentum turned again. And MacKinnon couldn’t reverse it. There was danger early in overtime, but Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo – sprawled on the ice – blocked a slot shot with his butt. It was that kind of night. Get it done by any means necessary.
And then there was trade-deadline acquisition Nick Leddy, the smooth defenseman who propelled the Blues with three assists. We could cite so many others, including defenseman Justin Faulk and the young bull of a forward named Alexey Toropchenko. Pavel Buchnevich played his best game of the postseason.
Coach Craig Berube had his mojo working again, putting his instincts to work by adjusting in-game. He elevated Toropchenko to the third line and dropped Ivan Barbashev to the fourth line. The moves energized both units, and the fourth line pumped in the winning goal.
So many guys snapped out of it, woke up, and turned up the high-intensity aggressiveness that left the Avs flat-footed. This Blues team had a hungry heart. I just wish we would have seen this in Game 3, and especially Game 4.
“It’s just character and leadership,” Berube said. “We’ve got a lot of character in that room, we all know that. This team has come from behind quite a bit this year in games, so they don’t give up. You’ve just got to keep playing and keep battling and they did that. That’s all on them.”
After a 20-goal, 57-assist regular season Thomas hadn’t scored a goal in his first 10 playoff games this month, and the criticism was getting louder. But Tommy came through at a fine time with two huge goals in Game 5.
A youthful center found redemption.
And an old center found his youth.
Tyler Bozak, 36, was the unlikely hero. He played only 7 minutes and 16 seconds in this game. After making $5 million per year on a contract that expired after last season, Bozak re-signed for the veteran league minimum $750,000 to stay with the Blues this season. He wasn’t ready to quit, even after injuries and a reduction of ice time. Bozak is just a classy pro who loves the game and loves being a Blue.
The Blues went another season with Bozak because of the respect that coaches and teammates had for him. He helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019. He’s remained useful with his strong defensive play, leadership, and skill at winning faceoffs.
The savvy Bozak will go weeks without doing much for the box score, but he’s displayed an uncanny ability to come up large at unlikely moments. Earlier this postseason he scored a goal in the Blues’ series-clinching 5-1 win over Minnesota.
So of course, here came Bozak in overtime, calmly snapping a 77 mph changeup that floated by Kuemper. The perfect shot. And 3:38 into overtime the Blues had their own Monday Night Miracle on a Wednesday Night in Denver.
In the 1986 Western Conference final, the Blues were in dire straits in a rollicking Game 6 at the old Arena on Oakland Ave. Calgary had leads of 4-1 and 5-2 but couldn’t finish the Blues off. Four unanswered goals – Brian Sutter, then two from Greg Paslawski, and the overtime winner from Doug Wickenheiser – gave The Note a 6-5 miracle of a win. I was part of the Post-Dispatch team covering the game in the old barn that night, and the memories of that evening still give me a chill.
Alas the 1986 Blues couldn’t do it again in Game 7, losing 2-1 at Calgary. It was a sad ending, but it didn’t lessen the wonder and the drama of the Monday Night Miracle, one of the all-time greatest wins in Blues franchise history.
The Monday Night Miracle is meaningful for another reason: it can serve as a reminder for the 2022 Blues. The Game 5 victory in Denver was sweet and scintillating, but if the Blues come home, go flat, and lose to the Avs on Friday night … their Game 5 marvel won’t be the same. Wasted in a lost cause. And that would be a shame.
The Cardinals have been there. The famous Albert Pujols home run off Houston’s Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS was extraordinary, and the Cardinals (down 3-2) went home with a chance to win the two games and advance to the World Series. But Astros starter Roy Oswalt shut them down in Game 6, eliminating the Cardinals in the final game played at the previous Busch Stadium.
The 2011 Cardinals showed us how it’s done. The Texas Rangers had a 3-2 World Series lead when the action shifted to St. Louis for Game 6. And, hopefully, a Game 7.
In Game 6 David Freese saved the Cardinals with a two-out game-tying triple in the bottom of the ninth, and won it with a leadoff homer in the top of the 11th. Freese had two RBI in Game 7 to back starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, and the Cardinals won 6-2 to secure the 11th World Series championship in club history.
I’m not the first to suggest this, but …
The Blues should arrange for Freese to be at Enterprise Center to bang the drum and get the crowd pumped for Game 6.
In Game 5, despair turned into delirium. Exhaustion turned into exhilaration. If the Blues doubted themselves going into Game 5, they threw it off and put it back on the Avalanche – a team that has anxiety issues in the postseason.
Before their mighty comeback in Game 5, the Blues had gone 5-14 against Colorado since the start of last season. And that included a 1-7 postseason record. Make it 2-7 now.
The Avs had a 95 percent probability of winning the game that would have buried the Blues. But the frenzied Blues competed their way out of a precarious situation, and the psychology of this series may have been altered again.
Which leads us into Game 6. The Blues have an opening for a Friday Night Miracle.
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
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.