The St. Louis Blues prepare to begin Round One of the 2015 NHL Playoffs tomorrow, and will face off at home against the Minnesota Wild. This is the healthiest the Blues have been going into post-season play in the last three years, and unlike last season where they lost their last SIX regular season games, St. Louis finished strong with a 5-1 record down the stretch. Here are 3 keys to the Blues staying hot and moving past Round One.
Tarasenko Lights The Lamp
Vladimir Tarasenko led St. Louis in scoring this season despite missing the final five contests, falling just shy of his first 40 goal campaign. He finished with 73 points, the most by a Blues player since Pavol Demitra’s 93 in 2002-03, and led the Blues in goals with 37. Tarasenko is a popular choice for Breakout Player of the Year, an unofficial but certainly popular title:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 11, 2015
Tank, as he’s called by some of his teammates, had St. Louis’ best Round One performance last year, netting 4 goals in 6 games, but it wasn’t enough to prevent an early exit for his club. This season, Vladi has a better supporting cast as the Blues have four players with at least 20 goals with Tarsenko and Jaden Schwartz (28) both reaching career highs. If Vladi can continue his torrid pace and lead the team in scoring versus Minnesota the Blues will have a great chance to move on.
No Goaltending Controversy!
St. Louis enters Round One this year in the enviable situation of arguably having TWO starting caliber goaltenders in Jake Allen and Brian Elliott. Both guys have their backers and detractors but there’s no arguing with their stats:
There’s been a LOT of argument as to which netminder should be the starter in Round One. While Elliott had a fantastic season, despite missing an entire month, and beat the Wild 4-2 in the regular season finale last Saturday, Allen has had the hotter hand since April 1 and I’m of the opinion he’ll be Ken Hitchcock’s starter. The key here is that regardless of who starts Round One for the Blues, the team has a legitimate answer behind him should something unexpected occur.
When the Ryan Miller experiment went south last year St. Louis didn’t have a solid option to turn to. Allen comes in this year with confidence in his game and a full NHL season under his belt. Elliott is 7-2 with a .904 SV% versus the Wild since joining the Blues and so either has the ability to carry the Blues beyond Round One.
Paul Stastny Heats Up
Many fans rejoiced when St. Louis signed free agent Center Paul Stastny this past summer. The Blues were lacking a play-making man up the middle and Stastny has ties to the Gateway City. Paul grew up here, attending Chaminade High School and his father, Peter, and older brother, Yan, both suited up for the Blues in the past. It had all the makings of a fairy tale but some would say fell far short of expectations.
Stastny started off slowly and failed to gel with the wingers we expected. He finished the season with 16 goals, short of the 20+ many were hoping for, but March wound down and the final two weeks played out, Paulie looked to have an extra gear to his game. He found some traction and looked to reestablish some chemistry on a line with Schwartz and T.J. Oshie.
As of this morning’s skate the line remains intact, though game time could bring any number of changes. If Stastny can continue heating up as Round One begins and start feeding the other forwards with his signature silky passes, the Blues will have another supporting scoring line to give the Wild fits.
That’s one solid situation in the net and two big If’s for the St. Louis Blues but with their strong play to wrap up the regular season there’s little reason to expect anything short of a Round One victory.