The best and most frustrating time of the year is upon us as the St. Louis Blues start the Stanley Cup Playoffs Wednesday night.
It’s been a very long and odd season for the St. Louis Blues. At one point in the season, it was thought that this team was going to miss the playoffs and it was going to be yet another long and frustrating summer for St. Louis Blues’ fans. Instead, here we are at the start of another postseason, facing a familiar foe in the Minnesota Wild.
As everyone is aware, the St. Louis Blues lost in six games to a lesser Minnesota Wild team coached by now St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo. While the Minnesota Wild are a tough opponent and have been a fantastic team most of the season, I am sure most Blues fans will agree with me that I am glad that it is not the Chicago Blackhawks again.
The most surprising thing about these playoffs is that as we move into the playoffs, the St. Louis Blues somehow have the worst odds to win a Stanley Cup out of any of the teams in the playoffs at 33-1. Now, if that isn’t a headscratcher I don’t know what is. The St. Louis Blues are absolutely one of hottest teams in the league and since Yeo took over the team they have dominated both at home and on the road.
Since Yeo was named head coach the St. Louis Blues are 30-8-2 compiling 62 of their 99 points this season. This is not the same team that was mired in the difficulties of December and January. This is also not the same team that lost in six games in the Wester Conference Final to the San Jose Sharks. The team had a lot of changeover, as they lost out on David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliot. Those were three key cogs to the Blues’ deep run last season.
Throughout much of the first half of the season, the Blues struggled to develop an identity. They couldn’t decide whether they wanted to play the system that got them to the WCF last season with Backes and Brouwer or if they were going to play differently. There was a ton of confusion on the ice in just about every game and the Blues just looked lost.
Once Yeo took over, the switch seemed to flip for the Blues’ players. So, to see the Blues seemingly get no respect by the odds makers is a little odd. However, it is a new scenario for this team as they have consistently been near the top of the odds and have been picked to win it all by many over the last few years. Maybe the lower expectations will keep the eyes off of the Blues and the team can fly under the radar with another deep run.
Keys to the series
There are a few things that are going to need to happen for the St. Louis Blues to have a deep and successful playoff run. Some of them I believe are obvious and yet some of them may not be so obvious.
Scoring from the top players
Most importantly, the St. Louis Blues are going to have to get some consistent scoring from Vladimir Tarasenko. Last season, Tarasenko managed to put up nine goals and six assists in his 20 games. However, the majority of those numbers were put up during the first two series’. Tarasenko was largely a non-factor in the series against San Jose and it was a big reason why they lost that series.
Tarasenko is not the only one we are going to need to see scoring out of. In series’ past, Tarasenko has attempted to carry the team and the other top players were absent. It is going to be imperative that not only Tarasenko is on his game, but also Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz. If it’s all Tarasenko and these guys are non-factors, it will spell trouble for our boys in this series.
Hopefully, Tarasenko and the others can find a consistent game this time around if the Blues are able to get past the Wild. If so you can expect the Blues to go far yet again.
The second most important cog in the St. Louis Blues playoff run is Jake Allen. This is another obvious one as the Blues will only go as far as Jake Allen goes. There is no Brian Elliott to bail him out any longer, so we are going to have to get the Jake Allen from the second half of the season because if the team has to go to Carter Hutton, they will be in trouble.
With the Minnesota Wild having the league’s ninth best powerplay at the end of the season after a long stretch of futility from February till the end of the season, it is going to be imperative that the Blues PK unit (the league’s third best) is on its top game. Maybe with the addition of Vladimir Sobotka it will continue to be a top unit for them.
If this unit is not consistent for them it is going to spell trouble for the St. Louis Blues in this series. Not only that, but if they get stuck taking a ton of bad penalties, it is going to wear out the PK unit and it will show.
I believe the St. Louis Blues hold some wild cards that not everyone is looking at in this series. The first is Ivan Barbashev, the rookie center who has played extremely well since getting the call from Chicago. I think that he has the potential to show us a lot in this series. He has shown an ability to play a bigger role than what has been expected of him and has the ability to be an x-factor for the team against a seasoned Wild team.
He reminds me a lot of the impact Robby Fabbri made with this team last season and in the playoffs. I think he has the potential to make just as much of an impact as Fabbri did last season and can be somewhat of a surprise to people outside of St. Louis.
I am not saying that this is a line that needs to play a lot or a line that is going to be the line that wins the Blues the series. However, I will say that this line is going to be incredibly important. Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, and Ryan Reaves have been pretty much been the line that has stayed together the most throughout the season. Yes, there has been one or two players added or subtracted at times, but for the most part, these three have been together.
These three remain the only line that was together at this time last season, this is a group of guys who gave the Blues energy last postseason. The Blues saw the impact Kyle Brodziak had against them in the 2015 series with the Wild and now he will have the opportunity to play an impactful role against his former team.
They will play fast, they will play hard, and they will play smart and hopefully shut down some of the Wild’s scorers in an attempt to play the “shutdown line” role. Like I said, I don’t expect this line to be “the most impactful” group of players, but they will play an important role in this series.
There is a lot of keys to this series, but these three stand out the most to me. If Tarasenko and Allen are on their game, I believe the rest will follow. However, if the PK unit falters, the team will be in big trouble and it will be hard to win this series.
We also know that Barbashev has the potential to be the sneaky player that not many know of. He has the potential to show off some of his skill and ability and take his game to another level. The fourth line is also going to play a sneaky role in that they will be ready to play and will play with cohesion and experience against this Wild team.
I am not one for predicitons, as I would prefer to watch the series play out and enjoy it without feeling like an idiot or genius for my prediction. However, the Blues did win the season series against the Minnesota Wild 3-2, so they do have that in their cap. The playoffs are always a completely different animal, however, and the Blues will need to bring their “A-game”.
So, Blues’ fans, the time is here. Tonight is the night we have been waiting for all season long. The start of what could be something special starts tonight. I hope you are ready, I know that I am ready. Let’s hope the St. Louis Blues make us happy with a nice W tonight. We sure could use something to be happy about here in St. Louis with the struggles of the Cardinals.