The St. Louis Blues knew what they had to do and knew they could do it, but fans, as always, were cautiously optimistic. Once the puck dropped, the team left little doubt and now they can pack their bags for Boston.
The St. Louis Blues always seem to find a way to make things more difficult than they need to be. They found a way to not do this in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final and now they have the chance to play for the holy grail of hockey.
Fans were chomping at the bit all day long, wondering how this game was going to go. Everything seemed to be lining up for a Blues victory, but you just never know with these things or this team.
St. Louis had the advantage. They were playing at home, up 3-2 in the series and San Jose was without three of their key players. Still, fans love to have nerves.
The Blues put those to rest right away. Just 1:32 into the game, the Blues scored the opening goal of the game and they have been dominant when they got that first score.
The Blues just kept the pedal to the metal the rest of the first period. It took almost 15 minutes for another goal to be scored, but the Blues doubled their lead just prior to the end of the first. That would prove to be huge.
St. Louis fell off the rails just a little in the second period. They were not bad, but they were playing loose and that fell right into what San Jose wanted to do.
The Sharks started opening things up and getting shots to the net in the middle frame. They were able to catch the Blues in a bad line change and cut the lead in half just shy of seven minutes into the period.
The Blues of the past would have folded in that moment. Those teams would have held onto the lead with their fingernails, leaving things to chance with an empty net scenario.
This Blues team thrust that aside and claimed their moment. They poured in another three goals and put the game and series to bed.
That put a lot of people on a path where they would find going to be very hard. Tears flowed and hugs were shared, but the team remains focused on four more wins.
Pros: Another Quick Strike
How the Blues started games seemed to have a tremendous impact on how the entire game would go. During the regular season, the Blues did manage to come from behind a handful of times, but how the game began usually showed you how it would end.
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That has been even more true in the playoffs. So, getting the first goal and getting it so quickly was immensely important.
Under some circumstances, you could see the Blues getting tight and possibly bending under the weight of expectations from an entire city. Instead, they scored just 92 seconds into the game and the weight was lifted off.
The Blues continued to get great impact from their secondary lines, getting the goal from their second line. After entering the zone strong, they got the puck worked around.
Regardless of who got it, they managed another great team goal. They also energized a building that was buzzing the entire night, but was filled with somewhat nervous energy at the start. After that goal, the fans could settle in with the team just a bit and enjoy how everything unfolded.
Cons: Allowing The Sharks A Glimmer Of Hope
With the team already up 2-0, it seemed as though they entered a slight comfort zone. The Sharks managed to take advantage of that and give themselves some jump.
The Blues were at fault for this a little. While they were still looking for goals, their focus slipped just a little.
The Blues were actually coming off a three-on-one attack with Pat Maroon getting a good shot off. However, the defenders had gone off on a line change with their forwards in control of the puck and the Sharks managed to spring the rebound into an attack.
As well as Binnington has played, you pretty much expected him to save that. He did not and it was a good shot, but it let a little air out of the building.
You would like to have seen a little more effort by Robert Thomas on the back check, but the pass came quickly. While the Sharks were wounded, the worry was that one goal would be all they needed to dig their heels in.
Fortunately, the Blues managed to weather the brief storm after that goal and we are not talking about the weather outside the arena.
Pros: Power Play
Where in the blue hell did this power play come from? St. Louis has gone from the absolute worst power play in the playoffs to one of the hottest.
Some of the keys, clearly, have been getting shots and winning faceoffs. They did just that on the first goal of the power play.
After winning the faceoff right after the penalty call, it literally took only two passes. The puck came to Vladimir Tarasenko, who fired a firm pass to Colton Parayko. Parayko returned the favor, splitting the D, and hit Tarasenko on the circle. Without hesitation, Tarasenko ripped one over the shoulder to double up the team’s lead.
That has been the bread and butter of this suddenly resurgent power play attack. Win the faceoff and then get a quick shot on net. It has not always gone in, but it seems to settle the team in and help them put pressure on.
The second power play goal was not quite the same, but the eventual result was the same.
The Blues failed to win the faceoff the way they did the first time around. The end result was a fantastic penalty kill by the Sharks for 90 seconds of the power play.
However, once the Blues finally got their skates dug in and got some zone time, they were not going to be denied. The Blues worked the puck around quickly, not allowing the Sharks to figure out where the puck was going.
Another thing St. Louis has done in improving their power play is taking shots from the point. Alex Pietrangelo fired a slapshot from straight away.
That was saved, but Brayden Schenn was Johnny on the Spot and jammed in the rebound. Who, in their wildest dreams, would have thought the power play would have been a big reason the team could knock off San Jose.
Pros: Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly
If you had told someone that Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly would be two of the most important players in a series clinching game before the series or before the playoffs, nobody would have batted an eye. The way things panned out, it was not what we expected.
Brayden Schenn had not scored a goal in his last 13 games. O’Reilly had been working hard, but points were still hard to come by.
O’Reilly had not had a point since Game 2 against San Jose. Schenn had the odd point here or there, but his last goal came in Game 5 against Winnipeg. That was actually his only goal of the playoffs.
That all changed in this game. Both players worked their butts off in all aspects and got their rewards with their name on the score sheet.
O’Reilly was just doing all the little things. He won key faceoffs and won plenty of them, taking 67% of his draws.
He also got his name on the stat sheet three times, all assists. O’Reilly picked up helpers on the team’s first two goals, one of which would end up being the game winner and also on the team’s fourth.
Then there is Schenn. What can you say about this guy? He has kept his head leveled and held high through some adversity lately.
When Jaden Schwartz picked up his hot streak, Schenn seemed to go the other way. The talented forward was doing all the things right in the offensive zone, just as Schwartz had been during the regular season, and not getting rewarded for it.
He finally broke that in this game, popping that rebound in. You could tell he was thinking about it because he snapped his stick in half, signifying the snapping of his goalless streak.
These two are guys the Blues will need to rely heavily on in the final, so getting them going here was icing on an already sugary cake.
For me, I am personally still stunned by this. The way things played out, I had little doubt they could get to this point. Sure, there were moments of doubt like after the 6-3 loss to Winnipeg or the handpass debacle against San Jose or how tight everything was against Dallas. But unlike some, I never felt the Blues were outmatched by any opponent leading to this moment.
That said, it was always hard to imagine the St. Louis Blues making it to the final. As fans, we kept saying one day it will be our year, but even the most optimistic had their doubts.
Now, here we are. The Blues never left any doubt the way this game played out. They left the door cracked open a millimeter when San Jose scored, but they slammed it shut with emphatic force.
They wanted to be the team to make history and they did it. They put 49 years of frustration for an organization and fan base and shrugged it off.
Now, it all comes down to seven games and needing four wins. It sounds simple, but it might be the hardest thing they’ve ever done. It might be the hardest series the fans have ever had to deal with. It still feels pretty sweet.
There will be time enough to worry about the Boston Bruins in the coming articles. For now, I’m just soaking it all in and I would imagine everyone else is too.
I ran out and bought my shirts already and I don’t care if anyone says to wait for the next shirt. This is a monumental moment and I’m going to let the players worry about keeping their focus. It’s the first time in my lifetime they have gone this far and we should all celebrate it fearlessly.