The St. Louis Blues came into their first of a back-to-back series of games with the Vegas Golden Knights knowing the scenarios that would put them in the playoffs. Win in regulation gave them the best shot with the most possibilities.
However, that’s easier said than done when you’re facing the best team in your division. The Blues could only focus on their own task and let the Los Angeles Kings result take care of itself if it would.
Things didn’t start that well. The Blues played a very mundane first period and just never got going.
The game didn’t unfold poorly for them, but they didn’t do much to grab it either. Their offense was limited and they just looked a step slow.
Fortunately for them, Vegas was not clicking on all cylinders either. They only had 10 first period shots to the Blues nine.
The difference was chances. The Blues generated little and Vegas still looked threatening.
The Golden Knights got on the board first with just under six minutes to go in the period. The Blues defense lost track of the back door and it was a tapper for the 1-0 lead.
Ryan O’Reilly put the team on his back again. After a savvy move by Tyler Bozak to get the puck in the offensive zone while on the PK, Bozak fed it to the captain and he buried one for a shorthanded goal.
Still, the always dangerous second period loomed. It seemed about ready to go by the wayside until the Blues actually woke up offensively.
After getting good pressure but few shots, the Blues got lucky. David Perron was not lucky with his goal that put the team up 2-1, but Jaden Schwartz definitely was. He just flung the puck from the corner and the Vegas goaltender was napping or cheating, but got beat under the pad.
Unfortunately, it was not all roses for St. Louis. They allowed a goal in the final minute of the period, which is a disturbing trend. It was 3-2 going into the third.
Of course, the Blues cannot make things easy. St. Louis couldn’t clear the front of the net and screens led to a goal and a 3-3 game.
The Blues had cracks at it in the third period. They got the goalie swimming a few times, but couldn’t capitalize.
They got the point they needed to give themselves a chance to clinch, which would eventually happen with the Kings losing.
However, despite a relatively well played overtime, the Blues failed to win again. They had a breakaway and a two-on-one and came up empty. Vegas scored with the Blues at the end of a shift and won 4-3.
Pros: Penalty kill
One of the shakier things about the Blues during the early and mid-portion of the season was their penalty kill. Frankly, their entire special teams units looked lost and having new players was not a good enough excuse.
Both units have turned things around at the end of the season. The penalty kill still absorbs a lot of zone time, but they get the job done.
They killed off three Vegas power plays and held them to one shot on their last chance. That was a big one because allowing a goal would have made it 4-3 in regulation and put the Blues at serious jeopardy of getting a point.
Cons: Another blown lead
At this point, I’m pretty sure the Blues could score eight goals against Vegas and it not matter. They simply cannot hold a lead against this team.
I’ve had several arguments about how the Blues match up against Colorado and Vegas and there are plenty that think it’s a better fit against the Golden Knights in the playoffs. This game should be another indication that’s not the case.
The Blues have shown they can play a brand of playoff style, even in the regular season, against the Avalanche. They don’t stack up against Vegas right now.
If the Blues got all their pieced healthy by the playoffs, maybe it’s different. Even then, I’m just not sure because they cannot deal with Vegas’ pressure in crunch time.
The Blues didn’t play that poorly in this game, but they lose focus at the worst times against Vegas. There’s no reason to surrender a goal in the final 10 seconds of the second period.
The game didn’t need to go to overtime if the Blues could finish better. Heck, the game almost ended in regulation because the Blues almost kicked the puck into their own net with three seconds left.
Pros: Playoff spot gained
I almost said playoff spot earned, but given the Blues lost this game, it doesn’t feel earned. They didn’t back their way in, but it’s sort of a side step.
Nevertheless, getting in is the point. All you have to do is get in and see what happens.
Nobody thought the Kings would win as an eighth seed. Even as a higher ranked team, few outside of St. Louis gave the Blues a shot to beat Winnipeg back in 2019.
Who knows what happens in any first round. I don’t want to play Vegas and others make a case for not wanting to play Colorado.
Maybe Minnesota jumps all the way up and makes us all look silly. Whatever happens, the Blues are in and have given themselves a chance.
The thing with this team is they can hang with anyone. Nobody will blow their doors off on a given night once they get into playoff mode.
Winning games is another matter because we’ve seen the up and down nature of this team. They can be world beaters or heart breakers. At least they got in.
I honestly try not to take credit away from teams that beat the Blues. The fact is always there are things they’ve done to put the Blues into bad spots or forced mistakes and we only focus on the mistake.
Nevertheless, there’s just something about Vegas that doesn’t impress me. They beat everyone and do it with apparent ease, but I just don’t quite see it.
That’s why this result sits a little more sour. The Blues had the game in hand and did not find a way to crush Vegas’ spirit.
That’s where the credit thing has to come into play. It’s not like the Blues fell asleep and let Vegas back in, but it’s also not like Vegas was throwing the kitchen sink at the goal and just finally broke through.
It’s a lame loss, but the ultimate mission was accomplished. It’ll be interesting to see what the gameplan for the Blues is now.
Do they keep guys going or rest players the final five games? You don’t want to risk injury, but you don’t want injuries to really take hold by allowing the body to feel the pain. Big decisions ahead and a game right away before they can be pondered.