There’s been a lot of chatter surrounding the St. Louis Blues most recent “implosion” in game 3 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, where the Wild took a 2-1 series lead after an abysmal effort by the Note. Things across the area seemed to boil over when reports surfaced of the Blues holding an optional practice in which only scratched players, and Dmitrij Jaskin and Marcel Goc showed up. The battle is far from over however, and the good news is that the Blues have a chance to right the ship tonight, something they’ve been very good at this season.
Being Down 2-1 isn’t Ideal; isn’t the End Either
Despite the panic running through Blues fans who are accustomed to viewing a postseason meltdown, this season has felt, and has truly been, different all season long. The team has shown resiliency when rough patches come along, and has shown that their depth will carry them through. However, after that highly questionable effort on Monday night in Minnesota and a poor showing at the optional practice many fans are still ready to throw in the towel. What those fans need to remember is that this St. Louis team has continuously shown throughout the season that they have many tools that should help them overcome this 1-game deficit to regain control of the series heading back to St. Louis this Friday.
— Emily Navidad (@awkwardbluesfan) April 21, 2015
If the regular season gives fans any indication of what to expect this postseason (which with the Blues it normally doesn’t, but again, this year has been different) then they can expect a hard-nosed, grinded out yet focused game to create time and space for budding stars like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz to make their plays and get high quality shots through traffic and on net.
“We’ve been resilient all year, we’ve come back from 2, 3, 4 goals throughout games all season. We’ve had stretches where we didn’t play well and then we go out and win 5, 10, 12 games in a row so we’re resilient in this room and we’re not going to stop no matter what the (playoffs) series is or what the score is.”
As defensive leader Alex Pietrangelo stated above, the team has been able to bounce back after tough stretches this season, including 3, 5 game-plus winning streaks after losing just 2 games in a row (5 and 7 game win streaks, and a 13 game point streak as well). They have also won 8 games directly after losing by 2 or more (out of 15 total) and only had 1, 3-game losing streak all season, which is what the Wild need to go on to close out the series now. Though they don’t want to lose a 2nd straight tonight, these stats do show the Blues are highly capable of bouncing back in a big way, and most of the time it happens quickly.
Big Name Players Need to Play Big
Some of the Blues big-name players’ time has come, and it’s put up or shut up tonight in game-4 of this 1st round series. Look for David Backes, TJ Oshie, and Alexander Steen to come out flying and to make statements early to set the tone and pace of this pivotal contest. They haven’t had the best track record of success in the playoffs, with Backes and Oshie having just 18 points combined in over 50 games in the NHL playoffs (also combined), but they are at a point in their career where the hunger to win and the knowledge of the past should aid their efforts to find that next level now.
Fans need to keep in mind that the “SOB” line led the entire NHL in points from the beginning of 2015 through early March, including a stretch that saw them amass 74 points in just 22 games, so hopefully past playoff transgressions with this core group will stay in the rear-view this season.
What Needs to be Done to Secure a Game-4 Win
Besides the big name guys needing to step up tonight fans may wonder what the team can do differently, outside of finding that desire and drive to push for every inch on the ice. What the Note needs to focus on in this crucial game-4 is keeping their feet moving to create that time and space to make plays, and to force Minnesota’s back-check and defense out of the middle of the ice so Blues’ players can get there for scoring chances. Completing these tasks will make the team more physical which plays to their advantage, and should help decrease the incredible missed/blocked shot numbers the Note have seen over their 2 losses this series (33 blocked, and 27 missed in their 2 losses).
If that is the case not only will the shots that make it to Dubnyk be of higher quality, but the Wild goaltender should have to move around a lot more, which causes him to lose his angle at times, giving the Blues more chances at partially open nets. As former Blue and current NHL analyst Jamie McClennan puts it in an InsideSTL article,
“The Blues are not getting second (chance) opportunities on Devon Dubnyk, and quite honestly they’re making him look good. He’s a good goaltender but you can’t make him look like a Vezina winner every night. There’s not a lot of lateral movement in Dubnyk’s game, he’s able to front pucks. At the end of the day they’re not getting consistently good looks on Devon Dubnyk.”
If the Blues do get the Wild defense out of their jammed packed collapse style of play through the slot areas, they will have those backdoor and slot opportunities with a moving Dubnyk, which should spell more goals and a good win for the Note tonight. If the Blues can’t manage to kick it into overdrive, then the panic button may need to be hit, but they will cross that bridge if and when it’s needed.
The moral of the story is this: after one tough road game against a team whose home ice lays in the “State of Hockey” fans can’t be too upset just yet. Is being down in a 7-game series 2-1 ideal, no, but is it the end of the line for the Blues, absolutely not. This team has shown its differences from years’ past all season, and they seem ready to do so again tonight. Puck drop is at 8:30 PM CST, and that’s when fans will find out just how hungry this Blues team truly is in these 2015 NHL playoffs.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.