Your Blues returned to St. Louis on a wave of kinetic energy. That’s a fancy-pants way of saying they have the momentum in their first-round series against the Minnesota Wild.
After being counted out more prematurely than Missouri’s own Harry S Truman in the 1948 presidential election – OK, I’m reaching here – the Blues responded to a 2-1 series deficit and local gloom and doom by lowering the boom in Games 4 and 5. I don’t know about you, but I heard some echoes from 2019.
This what momentum looks like:
– Consecutive 5-2 victories over Minnesota that gave the Blues the power to seize a 3-2 series lead.
– A chance to win the best-o-seven series by successfully defending the starship – otherwise known as the Enterprise Center – on Thursday night.
– Jordan Binnington is outplaying Marc-Andre Fleury in a showdown of Stanley–Cup winning goaltenders. In STL’s two wins that changed the series Binnington has a five on five save percentage of .962 that’s vastly superior to Fleury’s .869. And in all situations, Binnington’s save percentage is .935 tops Fleury’s .848. The Binner has been absolutely brilliant in his two starts, stopping 51 of 53 shots at five on five … including seven of eight high-danger triggers.
– Vladimir Tarasenko felled the Wild with an unnerving three-goal attack in the third period of Game 5. He’s happy, fired up, and has that look in his eyes. Tarasenko has 39 career postseason goals, second in franchise history to Brett Hull’s 67. Tarasenko’s 39 goals have come in only 83 postseason games. Since 2012 he has the fourth-best average of goals per postseason game (0.47) among NHL players that have competed in at least 50 playoff matches. In his last healthy postseason, 2019, Tarasenko had 11 goals in the Blues’ run to the Stanley Cup. Healthy again after two injury-wrecked seasons, Tarasenko has four goals and an assist against the Wild. That makes it 15 goals and 7 assists in his last healthy 31 postseason games.
– The Blues have outscored the Wild 6-2 at five on five over the last two games, and that includes a stunning 5-1 advantage in goals scored from high-danger shooting areas. The Blues have pierced an established Minnesota strength, turning a perceived disadvantage into a late-series advantage. In Tuesday’s 5-2 silencing of the crowd in St. Paul, the Blues outscored Minnesota 3-0 at five on five. You’re not supposed to do that to the Wild, but don’t tell the Blues that.
– The full force of 2019 Stanley Cup hockey hit the Wild in the third period of Game 5. The Wild were outscored 3-0. Over the final 20 minutes that determined the outcome of this game, the Blues buzz-sawed the Wild at five on five to limit them to seven shots on goal, five scoring chances, and no shots from high-danger spots. The Blues were composed and efficient and calmly disassembled the Wild the way a master gemologist takes apart a watch.
“I thought our third period was our best period,” Blues coach Berube said after Game 5. “We pushed hard, but then we really did a good job of shutting them down, checking-wise. Being above things. Not giving ‘em anything free. And just the compete. Highly competitive in our zone, heavy, hard on pucks battling ‘em out, blocking shots. All the little things that we needed to close the game out.”
– In their triumphs in Game 4 and 5, the Blues went back to their sinister sharpshooter ways; 15.15 percent of their total shots on goal (all strengths) went into the net for score. Meanwhile, Minnesota put only 6.45% of its shots in the net. The gap shooting percentage gap is even more pronounced at five on five: 13.04% scoring rate for the Blues; 3.77% scoring rate for the Wild.
– The Wild are obviously frustrated, and it’s not just because they’re down in the series and facing potential elimination in Game 6. How would you feel if you outshot the opponent time and time again … and set up repeatedly for platinum scoring chances … and cultivated a robust expected-goals share of 58 percent at five on five – only to come away with a pair of five on five goals over the last 120 minutes of play?
– For all of the justifiable praise heaped on Wild shining star Kirill Kaprizov, who has scored an impressive seven goals in the series, I think we should take a closer look. Yes, he’s a spectacular talent. But four of Kaprizov’s seven goals in the series have come on the power play.
Three have been scored at five on five. Most important of all, Kaprizov has scored only one goal on seven shots at five on five in the last two games, both won by St. Louis. Sure, his power-play goals are significant, but the Blues are winning on special teams with a 6-4 edge in goals. And that makes the five on five battle more vital to the outcome. Suppressing Kaprizov and holding him to one five on five goal in the last two games is a huge factor in the Blues scoring 75 percent of the five on five goals over the last two games.
— Obviously the Wild can’t rely on Kaprizov to do everything. In the Blues wins on Sunday and Tuesday Kaprizov scored three of his team’s four goals – two on the PP. Only one other Wild player, Matt Boldy, has scored. The “GREEF” line – Mike Foligno, Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek – has been totally blanked for two straight games.
“You need secondary scoring,” Foligno said after his team’s Game 5 loss. “It’s on our line to produce. We didn’t do that tonight. You get two out of your best player, and you need other guys following up on it.”
While praising Kaprizov and issuing an indictment of his other players, Wild coach Dean Evason declared: “He’s unbelievable, right? He’s unbelievable. It’d be nice to have 20 of them. This kid just continues competing his ass off, and goals aside, he wants to win. He wills the team. He just didn’t have enough guys willing alongside him tonight. But if we had 20 of him, we’d be competing our butts off a little better.”
Kaprizov added: “The goal isn’t for a player to play well. The goal is for the team to play well, and we didn’t win.”
– The forced “Duel of the Russians” media narrative is absurd. This isn’t about Tarasenko vs. Kaprizov. Each star was tremendous in Game 5. Kaprizov with two power play goals to give his team a 2-1 lead after they’d gone down 1-0, and Vladdy with the hat trick to blow the game open. But Tarasenko had plenty of help, with captain Ryan O’Reilly giving the Blues a 1-0 lead and Brandon Saad scoring a critical goal to put the Blues in a 2-2 tie late in the second period. And as I mentioned earlier, only one other Wild player (Boldy) scored in addition to Kaprizov over the last two games. And in taking control of the series in those two games the Blues have gotten goals from Tarasenko, O’Reilly, David Perron, Kyrou, and Saad.
— Coach Berube’s choice to go with seven defensemen is working very well, and that was obvious last night when the Blues were fresh and energized and had a large group of D–men to lean on in the decisive third period. It must be disappointing for the Wild to know they failed to fully exploit a decimated Blues’ defense crew when they had the opportunity.
– In the NHL playoffs, in the seven-game format, and when the best-of-seven series is locked at 2-2, the victor of Game 5 has gone on to prevail in the series 79.1 percent of the time. When the road team wins Game 5 to snatch a 3-2 lead, it successfully closed out the series 76.4% of the time.
Nothing is over.
The Wild will put up a fight on Thursday in St. Louis.
The Blues are more than ready to accept the challenge.
Thanks for reading …
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