Schwartz Redeems Season, Saves Series for Blues

Jaden Schwartz has been the subject of a lot of conversation this season, and little of it has been positive. He was not a difference maker in the early portion of the season when his St. Louis Blues were struggling, and even later in the year, after returning from injury, he could not seem to find his game.

Then the playoffs started, and it seemed that Schwartz had disappeared completely. Fans were criticizing him constantly, and as recently as Thursday, I myself suggested sitting him in game five of the series against the Winnipeg Jets. His play was that bad.

Even in the face of such criticism, Schwartz persevered. Tenacity has been a trait that has defined Schwartz’s entire career, and he proved it in the last two games of the series, by scoring the Blues’ final four goals and propelling the team into the second round.

Schwartz’s Squandered Season

Blues’ fans and media have often described Schwartz as “the straw that stirs the drink” for the team. It’s no surprise, therefore, that when Schwartz struggled to get out of the gate strong, the team struggled as well. The winger had just seven points in his first 14 games, although he was impressively (considering his teammates) a plus-one in that time. Then, in his fifteenth game, he collected two assists, but, in what has become a troubling trend during his career, he left the game injured.

Jaden Schwartz looked like a shell of himself early in the season, as did many of his Blues’ teammates (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Things didn’t improve after Schwartz returned from injury. He had just five points in his next 12 games, and was a minus-three. At that point, fans began to question whether he could turn his season around at all, or what the future might look like for him. Of particular concern was his shooting percentage, which for much of the season lingered below three percent.

He finished the season with 36 points in 69 games. He had just 11 goals and was a minus-six. His shooting percentage finished at six percent, thanks in large part to the lone bright spot of his season, a hat trick on Mar. 19 against the Edmonton Oilers. Many hoped that would be the beginning of a turnaround, but he finished the season with just two more points in his next nine games.

Schwartz’s Stellar Series

Things did not immediately improve for Schwartz as the postseason began. He was a non-factor in game one, with just two shots and one blocked shot to his credit. He collected an assist in game two, but was a disaster in games three and four at home, a minus-one in each game with just four shots and one hit in total between the two. That start to the series led many fans to be fed up with him entirely.

Then in game five, everything changed. Schwartz played better consistently throughout the contest, but it was in the final minute that he really made his mark. Tyler Bozak centered a pass rather blindly, but Schwartz redirected it out of midair to score a goal with 15 seconds remaining and give the Blues the victory. It wouldn’t be his last goal of the series, either.

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In what would become the final game of the series, Schwartz was the entire difference for the Blues. He scored a hat trick, with one goal in each period, finishing the series by scoring his team’s final four goals.

On the first, he found a puck that had been fired trough goaltender Connor Hellebuyck by his linemate, Brayden Schenn, and got enough on it to tip it in. On the second, after missing a shot wide, he collected a rebound and fired it home, scoring the team’s lone power play goal in the game in the process. The third goal was the real thing of beauty, when Schwartz escaped on a breakaway, dodged the diving Dustin Byfuglien, and waited, waited, waited until he could fire the puck past Hellebuyck.

Hats rightfully rained down onto the ice to celebrate Schwartz’s accomplishment, and the Blues would go on to win by a final score of 3-2 (though the gap between the teams was much wider than that). While the whole team played their best game of the series by far, it was their oft-criticized forward who stole the show and made the memories for his team’s fans.

On to Dallas or Nashville

In round two, the Blues will face the winner of the series between the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators, a series which is currently three games to two in the Stars’ favor. Each opponent provides a unique challenge for St. Louis, but if Schwartz can continue his run of form, it should not be a challenge too steep for them to overcome.