The NHL Playoffs are by their nature unpredictable, full of ups and downs. Right now, the St. Louis Blues are on a down, both emotionally, having lost two games in a row, and literally, as they are currently down 3-2 in their second round series against the Dallas Stars.
While teams have come back from a 3-2 series deficit plenty of times (most recently, when the Boston Bruins rallied to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round), it has never come easily for St. Louis. Now, they’ll have to overcome all of their recent history to continue their dream of capturing the Stanley Cup this season.
Game 6 Blues
In recent memory, the Blues’ season has finished in a Game 6 five different times. It started in 2013, against the Los Angeles Kings, a team that had swept them out of the playoffs the season before. This time, the Blues made it further, but still fell 2-1 in Game 6, despite only allowing 16 shots against goaltender Brian Elliott.
In 2014, the Blues faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. For the second straight season, the team went ahead two games, and then lost four consecutive matchups, losing the series in Game 6. They were tied through two periods, before the Blackhawks scored four unanswered goals to win 5-1.
The following season, it was a 4-1 drubbing by the Minnesota Wild in the first round where the Blues met their fate. 2016 was one of the best seasons in the history of the franchise, and the team made it to the Western Conference Final. But they were still eliminated in Game 6, this time by the San Jose Sharks in a 5-2 beating (both of the Blues’ goals came in the final 10 minutes.)
Finally, the last time St. Louis made the playoffs, they were eliminated in Game 6 of the second round by the Nashville Predators. It was a closer contest, a 3-1 victory with the final goal coming on an empty net, but the result was no less devastating.
For five straight postseasons, the Blues have entered a Game 6 facing elimination and have left the playoffs immediately thereafter. Sunday, they will yet again enter Game 6, on the road, with elimination on the line. Is there any hope for a different result?
Berube’s New Regime
If the Blues are going to force a seventh game, they will need leadership of their interim head coach, Craig Berube. He took over the team in November, and since January, they have looked like an entirely new organization. While much of that can be attributed to the debut of Jordan Binnington, Berube deserves a lot of credit.
The question remains, though, whether he has the ability to coach the team to a Game 6 victory while facing elimination, something neither of his predecessors (Mike Yeo and Ken Hitchcock) were able to do once.
The best datum we have available is the team’s performance in Game 5 of their first round series against the Winnipeg Jets. Down two goals entering the third period, and facing the prospect of yet another series loss in Game 6 despite taking a two game lead, Berube made some critical line changes that gave the team life and helped them rally back and win in regulation. They played a fairly dominant Game 6, and won the series convincingly.
Does Berube have the changes, the strategy, or the speech that will equip and motivate the Blues to break their Game 6 curse? We will find out on Monday. But he seems to be able to motivate his team in a way that neither of the previous two coaches have, and that could be the key to a different result.
A Spectacular Season
Whether the Blues advance or not, this has been a spectacular season. Despite being in last place in the NHL as recently as Jan. 3, they made the playoffs, enjoying a franchise-record winning streak of 11 games in the process, and even pushed into the second round.
Neither the players or the fans will likely be satisfied if that all results in a Game 6 exit, but the team deserves credit for making it this far. Still, Berube hopes he’ll find the formula to not just extend the series, but bring home the team’s very first Stanley Cup.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.