The St. Louis Blues faced a high pressure situation against the Winnipeg Jets in Game 4 of their playoff series. In the end, it was a battle of wills.
The St. Louis Blues were up against the wall against the Winnipeg Jets despite leading the series coming into this game. Even those of us, including myself, that were confident heading into this game knew that a loss might be disastrous going back to Canada.
The Blues acted like they knew this too. They wanted to erase all doubt right from the drop of the first puck.
St. Louis came out flying in the first period. They had the first eight shots on goal before the Jets finally slipped one thru to force a save.
However, just like in Game 3, none of that meant anything. The Jets crushed the Blues in all offensive areas in Game 3 and could not get a goal. The Blues were much better in all aspects of their offense in the first period of Game 4, but did not manage to score.
Winnipeg slowly inched their way back into this game, shift by shift and period by period. Things were mostly even in the second period, possibly tipping slightly the Jets way as they were making more actual chances and forcing more good saves.
Still, the Blues drew a late penalty and had good pressure the final 30 seconds. Then, it seemed as though things might go their way when they scored the opening goal on the power play.
It was not meant to be as the team fell apart after that goal. They invited too much pressure and started scrambling like they did in Game 3. It was a better performance, but still too sloppy.
The Jets tapped in a marvelous deflection goal from the slot to tie it and nobody could sneak one in before the end of regulation.
But, the overtime period just had too much Jets to it. The Blues had a chance or two, but they just did not look good. It was like they used up all their gas in the first period.
Mental mistakes started building up and the team looked fried as it was icing after icing. The winning goal was a fortunate play as it bounced right back to the shot taker and then to an open man in front, but you could sense it coming.
Now, this becomes a short series and Blues fans better hope the trend of home teams tanking continues.
Pros: Bortz Block
This play will likely be quickly forgotten, especially since the Blues lost the game. However, one of the biggest moments of the game to that point was a huge block by Robert Bortuzzo.
Give Jordan Binnington all the credit in the world for his calm demeanor and saves, but he is not good at handling the puck. For some reason, he hesitated on a hand-off and ended up turning the puck over behind the net – a cardinal sin.
The Jets popped it back out front quickly and Binnington was in scramble mode. While there were lots of guys throwing themselves around, it was Bortuzzo that came up with the block.
Again, this moment seems inconsequential to the outcome since the Blues lost. At the time, it was huge.
The Blues were tied 0-0 at that time. Allowing the Jets to score first while they were taking over momentum would have been awful for the Blues at that point.
Instead, the Blues were saved by a third-pairing defenseman who has been the whipping boy at different times this year. Bortuzzo’s block kept the game scoreless and allowed his team a moment to breathe without the stifling, thick air of being behind on the scoreboard.
Cons: Offensive Zone Penalties
Winnipeg did not manage a power play goal, so you might argue about how important this is. It is maddening and just stupid overall though.
St. Louis continues to put themselves in a bad spot and give the Jets power play chances by taking dumb penalties while they are on offense. I understand you get frustrated by losing a puck battle or falling slightly out of position. The team has been so smart in terms of not retaliating when the Jets try to get in their had. Why can they not apply similar coolness on these plays.
David Perron has been guilty more than any other member of the Blues. It was said on the radio broadcast that he leads the team in offensive zone penalties and he has more offensive zone penalties than any other spot on the ice combined.
That boggles the mind. You are on offense. You are either trying to slow the other team’s exit or stay on offense. Putting your team down by a man should never happen without a bad call.
Perron, as with most other Blues that have gotten caught in the offensive zone, was guilty of reaching with the stick once the puck was by him. I get you are taught not to let the player get away, but tripping calls are almost always a result out of bad positioning and it is not smart to let it happen.
Penalties are bad enough against a team with such a good power play. Gifting them these opportunities when you are in the attacking zone is just unforgivable.
Pros: Tarasenko Power
What a story this would have been if the Blues could have put the clamps down and kept a shutout. Still, it was a great way to start.
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The Blues actually made the Jets pay for going into the box so late in the second period. Maybe it would have been better to score in the second so you could spend the intermission focusing on how to respond to the upcoming pressure.
Regardless, it was and should have remained a huge goal by Vladimir Tarasenko. Vlady made the most of his second opportunity after fumbling the puck and missing the first.
This time, he was closer to the inner hash marks on the left circle when he snapped it. Connor Hellebuyck had no chance and looked like he did not actually see the thing whiz by him.
A power play goal, by your best offensive player? That would have been a storybook finish for this one. Sadly, it did not play out that way.
Even so, the Blues have been better on the power play and it was good to get Tarasenko going with a good snap goal.
Cons: Allowing Too Much Pressure
As someone who is not a professional athlete, maybe it is unfair to remark about players energy levels and fight. We are not in their shoes and who knows what goes through their minds.
That said, it is hard not to see the Jets seem to get stronger as the game went on, absorbing the Blues best and continuing on, while the Blues seemed to shrink from the moment. The Blues were never as bad as we saw early in the season or Game 3, but their sharpness just seemed to leave them.
Almost the entire third period, after the Blues goal, they just seemed to invite the Jets in. There was not enough pressure at the blue line.
The defense went back into scramble mode. There was not enough coverage in the soft areas of the ice.
Binnington bailed the defense out countless times in the third period. You want your goaltender to be one of your best guys, but the Blues are almost too trusting in him.
They have to help somehow. You have to find a way to score more goals and also be defensively responsible.
St. Louis just lost their edge and seemed to panic a bit. They had so many icings in the third period and overtime that it was impossible to keep count.
The Jets pressure seemed to fog the Blues minds too. In the third and overtime, the Blues refused to make hard passes or carry the puck out.
Too often, they tried those high flippers to exit the zone and they were too weak. The Jets would keep it in while the Blues were flat-footed.
There were things to like about this game. Pat Maroon played a great game. He was just not rewarded with anything on the scoreboard. Still, he played a playoff type game.
The Blues were solid in the offensive zone for the first half of the game. What happened after that is anyone’s guess.
None of this is trying to take credit away from the Jets. They are a really, really good team and, at times, they imposed their will on the Blues.
The Jets have found a way to make the Blues play their game. St. Louis is trying too hard to outhit the Jets and the rest of their game seems to be sacrificed.
Credit also has to go to Hellebuyck. As bad as he was in Game 1 and 2, he has been just as good in Game 3 and 4. He has denied the Blues on some fantastic chances. You can argue he has been lucky on plenty of those, but that is what hockey goaltending is about – position and luck.
The Blues just have to find a way to get more puck possession. This business of allowing the Jets to run roughshod over you at the end of games is just unacceptable.
You have to create more pressure and sustain it. It cannot be a shot here or there and then the Jets take it out. You need to tire out their players because they certainly are tiring out the Blues with their pressure.
We all have to breathe and that might be the hardest thing. Most people thought this series would go the distance from the start and we all got fooled by stealing two road games.
Now, the Blues just have to steal one more. Maybe it is in Game 7, but it would be much nicer to have a chance to win on home ice. The Blues did not play terribly in this game, but it was not good enough. They had better find a way to be better or 3-2 will not be in their favor when they come home.