On Jan. 3, the St. Louis Blues were in last place in the National Hockey League, with seemingly no hope of a turnaround. Now, just four months later, there are three games left and the team has a legitimate shot at stealing first place in the Central Division in the final days of the season.
There are plenty of reasons for the team’s turnaround, but for now the Blues need to focus on the future. If they do so, they can control their playoff fate going forward.
The Blues’ Final Three Games
St. Louis has three games remaining, all against teams no longer in the playoff picture. The first game may be their toughest, as they play their arch rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks would love nothing more than to play spoiler for their foes to the south, and the Blues will need to be on their toes to secure a victory.
The Blues will fly home from Chicago Wednesday night to meet the Philadelphia Flyers on the second half of a back-to-back. The two teams have met only once before, in goaltender Jordan Binnington’s debut, a 3-0 shutout win. That game was arguably the beginning of the Blues’ turnaround, as Binnington has carried the team with a phenomenal 22-5-1 record in the second half. The Flyers will be looking to get revenge for that embarrassment by taking advantage of their tired opponent.
Finally, the Blues will face the Vancouver Canucks on April 6 on Saturday. The two teams have met twice before, and both were blowout defeats for St. Louis: 6-1 on Dec. 9 at home, and 5-1 on Dec. 20 in Vancouver. That was a different time for both teams, but now that the Blues are focusing on the playoffs, they need to not look past a team that will be hoping to enter the offseason with a good taste in their mouth.
While these three matchups may seem easy on the surface, the Blues cannot overlook any of them. If they do win all three, though, they will be poised for a potential first place finish, though they’ll need some help from their division rivals.
The Jets and Predators
The Winnipeg Jets lost on Tuesday night, 5-1 to the Minnesota Wild. It was a major loss for them, as the Nashville Predators drew even with them atop the division with a 3-2 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres. The two teams now are tied with 96 points, with the Jets ahead on regulation and overtime wins (ROW). The Blues have a game in-hand on each of them.
The Jets have a difficult schedule. Their two remaining games are both road games. They play the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday followed by the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Both the Avalanche and the Coyotes are fighting for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, and neither will go quietly.
The Predators, on the other hand, have a much easier time. They face two of the three opponents the Blues have remaining, with the Canucks coming first on Thursday and the Blackhawks closing out the season on Saturday. Both games will be at home.
That’s an easy schedule for Nashville, but it may not be the Blues’ concern. If St. Louis wins its remaining three games, they are guaranteed the tiebreaker edge over Nashville. That’s important whether the Blues capture first or not: if they fall short, they will face the Predators in the first round, and will want to secure home-ice advantage.
Catching the Jets will be tougher. In fact, the Blues cannot overtake first unless Winnipeg loses an additional game. St. Louis has three fewer ROWs, and therefore will fall behind on the tiebreaker. But three victories and a Jets loss will mean that the Blues will finish first in the Central.
The Final Stretch for St. Louis
The Blues cannot control whether the Jets lose another game. They therefore must focus on winning their three matchups. If they do so, they will have done all they can to capture first place.
Even if they fall short, though, it is simply unbelievable that they are in the conversation. Fans in St. Louis had written off the team entirely, and now they are preparing for a postseason run. What happens next for the Blues is anyone’s guess, but that makes sense: the 2018-19 season has been anything but predictable.
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.