The St. Louis Blues were the Blues in every sense of the word in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, that means they were the Blues at their best and the Blues at their worst.
The St. Louis Blues came into their first Stanley Cup Final in 49 years with a lot of hope and fan support beyond belief. St. Louis was buzzing the entire day and they filled up the entire Enterprise Center for a watch party for a game that was not even there.
They were rewarded for their passion and patience with about as good a start as anyone could believe. The Blues came out with tremendous energy and had the Boston Bruins on their heels in the early portions of this first game.
The Blues, as a team, were rewarded for their efforts as they got the first strike of the game. Just a little over seven minutes into the first period, St. Louis got on the board with great pressure and a goal from the slot.
St. Louis was limited in their chances for the rest of the first period, but they were limiting Boston, overall, as well. St. Louis was well organized and steady. The Bruins got their shots, but the Blues were doing a good job of clearing away second chances and getting in front of some shots too.
They went into the first intermission with the lead and it did not take long to double that lead. One minute into the period, St. Louis got their second goal of the game. Once again, it came from the team’s first line.
Normally when you get your best players to be your best players, you’re going to have a good night. Unfortunately, the brakes got slammed on quite hard.
The Blues started taking undisciplined penalties. We can argue about the strength or weakness of the calls, but the Blues put themselves in those spots for the refs to make a decision.
Even though St. Louis killed off several, they could not hold the fort forever. Boston answered with two goals in the second period.
You got the feeling the Blues had let their grip on the game slip away, but there was still hope. It was 2-2 going into the third and St. Louis had been a very good third period team in previous series. Not so much in this one.
Boston scored the go-ahead goal a little over five minutes into the third period and there was no looking back. The Blues never truly threatened after that and the Bruins got an empty net goal for the 4-2 win on their home ice.
We knew this opponent was going to be extremely tough and they were. The Blues did not do their own thing for long enough though and that was disappointing.
Pros: Hot Start
When the puck dropped on this game, the Blues looked like they were going to put their stamp on it from the word go. St. Louis won the faceoff and dominated for much of the first period.
The Blues managed to show a ton of energy right away. They were flying all over the ice, but they were playing within themselves.
We have seen them come out hard but reckless and this was far from that. The Blues were playing their game and they were taking it to the Bruins physically and tactically.
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St. Louis got off to their hot start because of their top line too. Brayden Schenn was one of the best guys in the blue note all night long and he got rewarded early.
As the puck was bouncing around, the Blues were doing a great job of keeping calm and holding the zone. Schenn ended up with it after a bit of a scramble and fired it into the left corner from the right slot.
Even though that was the extent of the offense for much of the first period, you still felt like the Blues were playing their game. They were getting pucks deep and winning battles.
The Blues looked like they were really going to put a stranglehold on the game when Vladimir Tarasenko snapped home a one-timer. The Blues made Boston pay for a careless turnover behind the net and Schenn quickly found Tarasenko in front and he left no doubt.
It was the dream start for St. Louis fans. Unfortunately, we all had to wake up later on.
Cons: Too Many Penalties
One thing became increasingly frustrating in this game. The Blues were unable to keep themselves in check in silly situations and it cost them dearly.
The Blues ended up taking five penalties in Game 1 against Boston. That might not sound like a ton when we have seen other games with six, seven or eight penalties handed out. When you are going up against the best power play in the playoffs, you cannot really afford to take even one penalty if you can avoid it.
That was the problem with St. Louis. With the exception of the Robert Thomas penalty, they could have avoided every single one.
There are fans out there that feel they were done wrong by the officials yet again. It cannot be denied some of the calls were soft, especially the aforementioned one against Thomas. There were one or two where it appeared as though the Boston players sold it pretty well.
It also cannot be denied that the Blues put themselves in those situations. Even if you think the call against Oskar Sundqvist was weak, there is no need to crosscheck someone right in front of their bench.
Even if you want to think the call against Joel Edmundson was not right, he got his stick up in the face of an opponent. You run the risk of the official seeing something from their angle, even if there was not as much contact as it appeared. You cannot do that.
The Blues only gave up one power play goal and that is a decent percentage overall. It does not matter.
If you killed off every single penalty, you are losing far too much energy. You could see the Blues look more and more tired after every penalty kill no matter what happened.
The Blues have to be disciplined. They are an intelligent team and they looked dumb in this game. You cannot take offensive zone penalties and cannot give this team this many chances.
Pros: Best Players At Their Best
One of the biggest worries coming out of previous series was the tendency for some of the Blues best to disappear. They were not completely absent, doing some of the dirty work, but they were not scoring as much as you would like.
The opposite was true in this game. St. Louis’ best line was their top line of Schenn, Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. Four of the Blues points came from those three forwards.
On the positive and negative side, those three made up the vast majority of the team’s offense. Schenn had six shots and Vlady had two shots. Schwartz chipped in with one shot. Alas, only one other player had double-digit shots and it was a defenseman.
However, to focus on the positives, if this line continues to be hot and some of the other guys get their offense going, the Blues are going to be a difficult team to stop.
The majority of times, if your team’s best players are the best players in a game, you are going to win if you shut down the opponent’s best. In typical Blues fashion, the opposite was true in this game. St. Louis got beat mostly by secondary lines and defenders.
The top line just has to stay the course. Tarasenko was engaged, backchecking and picking up pucks and involved in the offense in those early moments. Schenn was all over the place, but in a good way. Schwartz was his usual self, putting pressure on every chance he got.
The Blues just need all 18 forwards to do the same consistently and they will be alright.
Cons: Another Blown Lead
The thing that makes your stomach churn the most is the feeling this game was given away. Make no mistake, Boston won this game. It is not as though the Blues were in it until the very end and got beaten by a lucky goal.
The flip side of that is St. Louis allowed Boston to get back into this one. Instead of jabbing the proverbial knife in and twisting it, they fell back into bad behaviors and that cost them.
The penalties were just unforgivable. Joel Edmundson was trying to be physical and get under guys skin, but he was too undisciplined in doing that.
You cannot raise a stick above an opponent’s shoulder. Even if he believes David Backes embellished, Edmundson was just being dumb by getting his hands up this high while holding his stick in both hands. You’re going to get called for that nine times out of ten.
St. Louis was up by two goals and that evaporated too quickly. Boston might not have gotten the tying goal until after halfway through, but you could feel it coming.
St. Louis has been one of the worst teams all season long with a two goal lead, throwing away several right off the start in the regular season. Things got much better in the playoffs, but it still proves to be one of the worst leads for the Blues.
It is not clear if it is a mental thing or not. Whatever it is, they seem to let their foot off the gas just enough and when you are playing a championship caliber team, they are going to make you pay for that. You cannot give an inch or they will take a mile and that is what happened with four unanswered goals.
We all have to breathe. We can all freak out about losing the 2-0 lead and that is rough. We can all be depressed that this franchise has still not won a game in the Stanley Cup Final – that was my first thought right afterward.
However, not trying to be positive Pete, but this game was there for the taking. If St. Louis keeps more composed and stays out of the box, they were the better team at five-on-five through two periods of play.
Boston gained much of their momentum by tiring out St. Louis with their power play attack. The Blues had to expend so much energy to keep them off the board and clear pucks out that guys had little left for the even strength play.
Also, as bad as the Blues were in the second period and as sloppy as they were in the third, the game was still there for the taking. If the Blues had a slightly better start to the third period, maybe things slide the other way.
Instead, Boston took advantage of St. Louis’ lack of experience and sloppiness and put one in for an early third period lead.
St. Louis has a lot to clean up after this game. We’ve gone over the penalties at length, but they have to be strong on the puck as well.
There were so many weak passes that might work in February, but are not going to get it done in the last series out there. St. Louis was weak on their zone exits and trying things that never work for them.
The Blues have become enamored with the stretch pass just because it worked in one game against San Jose. That is not the Blues game. Edmundson’s turnover came because he did not want to skate the puck down the ice and tried an ill-advised zone-to-zone pass that was picked off. It led directly to a goal.
St. Louis has to get shots on goal. As solid as they were in the first period, there was not enough pucks on net.
20 shots will not cut it. The Blues reverted back to their pass-first mentality and it cost them. They actually had decent zone time on their power plays, but they refused to shoot.
As good as Schenn was, he passed up a clear opportunity in the second period trying to make a pass that was difficult to Schwartz. You have to get pucks on net and they did not.
The next game is the next game. Hockey has the least amount of momentum, game to game, of all the sports. If the Blues clean things up, they’ll be ok. If they fail to do that, the pressure will really be on for the return matchups in St. Louis.