As the St. Louis Blues entered their final regular season game of the 2021 season, everything had been decided as far as the Blues could affect things. The team knew they were the fourth seed in the divisional round of the playoffs and they knew a win or a loss would not affect them in any way against the Minnesota Wild.
The same was true for the Wild. They couldn’t move up or down in the standings and their first round opponent was out of their hands as well.
So, you might have expected boring hockey with both clubs just tossing the puck back and forth, trying to just stay healthy. You would have been wrong.
It was not a track meet game, but there was plenty of offense. All of it came from the Wild in the first period.
St. Louis wasn’t bad in the opening frame, but things did not go their way. St. Louis trailed 2-0 in the first four minutes of the game.
The first goal, St. Louis allowed a breakout and there was miscommunication that brought two Blues players to the puck carrier, allowing a free couple whacks at a rebound. Eventually, Minnesota jammed in the rebound after Jordan Binnington could not find the loose puck.
The next goal was failure to clear the screen from Binnington’s crease. While the shot was long and the screen well placed, the Blues goalie also had an awkward T-Rex arm motion that looked strange and came up empty on the save.
The Blues bounced back a little, generating some good offense on their lone power play attempt of the first. Nothing came of it and then the Wild pounced after winning a late-period faceoff and swatted another rebound out of midair for a 3-0 lead heading into the break.
St. Louis came alive in the second. The Blues went wild on the offensive end, scoring four goals.
The Blues got on the board at 5:16 of the second and never looked back. About three minutes later, the Blues scored the first of their two power play goals. Sandwiched between the special teams play, David Perron was the man to tie the game, securing his 56th point in 56 games.
The Blues had squashed a Minnesota team that had taken their foot off the gas and just kept going. St. Louis didn’t allow the reverse to happen in the third either.
David Perron scored his second not even six minutes in. Jordan Kyrou added two of his own, later in the third period.
After all the rush of goals, the Blues would finish off a 7-3 win and look toward a first round matchup with Colorado.
Cons: First period
Based solely on the eye test, the Blues weren’t that bad in the first period. They had a few brain freezes and a small handful of mistakes, but the Wild took advantage almost every time.
The offense was definitely not rolling for the Blues. They had seven shots and only three real chances on goal. They got out hit in the first period and also lost the faceoff battle. It was a far cry from the Blues squad we had come to see in recent weeks.
As far as the goals went, the first goal was just a lack of concentration. While you rarely want to leave a forward in charge of defending, Jordan Kyrou was close enough to Nick Bonino that he probably could have been left alone.
Instead, Niko Mikkola leaves his position to come wave his stick at the puck and leave the middle of the ice open. Yes, the save was made on the initial chance, possibly negating the mistake, but it left everyone on the backcheck in a scramble to negate Wild players from the rebound. It could have all been avoided if Mikkola stayed in his lane.
Conversely, while you can’t really blame Binnington for the second goal, he could have done better. Yes, he never saw it cleanly, but the position of his glove and the tightness of the elbow to the body just looked odd. If he attacked the puck with the glove instead of mildly stabbing toward it, the save might have been made. Might.
Overall, it was just a poor period with little feeling to it. It was a meaningless game, but you don’t want to get sloppy.
Pros: Second period
Statistically, the second period has been the absolute worst for the Blues. Entering this game, the Blues were minus-15 in the goal differential in the second period.
So, there was little chance for the Blues to do much, right? Well, that’s why you play the game on the ice, not in the stat sheet.
St. Louis showed serious resiliency. There was no reason for them to inject any more effort after getting blanked in the first period. There was nothing to be gained.
Regardless, the Blues found their game again. It all started with the much maligned Zach Sanford.
Sanford teased Blues fans once again with what he’s capable of but never finds with consistency. On his goal, he courageously drove into the offensive zone, showed skill with the toe drag and then fired it top shelf.
The power play became the story after that. While Schenn will get the final credit on both goals, it was impressive how quickly the Blues moved the puck and with such purpose, when they put their mind to it.
Earlier in the season, there was just so much hesitation. Dust the puck off and then dust it again, barely look at the net and always look to defer, hoping the next guy would shoot it. Now, the passes are crisp, decisions are quick and shots have meaning.
While several players had quality offensive games in this contest, Klim Kostin was still impressive despite a relative lack of stats. While there is still much he can get better at, his level of maturity is looking good.
He has a calmness about his game that doesn’t scream “I’m a rookie” any longer. He’s settled in nicely to a physical role too.
For the second night in a row, Kostin threw the body and did it smartly. He led the way in hits last game and tied for second most with three hits in this contest.
Kostin looked better on the offensive end too. He wasn’t credited with a shot on goal, but drove into the zone quite a bit and had one good chance blocked.
Kostin drew the penalty that led to the Blues second goal. He also assisted on Kyrou’s first goal with a well timed centering pass right onto the tape.
Similarly to the win in game 55, you cannot read a ton into this performance. The Blues were not with the full team they will hopefully have for the playoffs.
St. Louis was not playing against the full roster of Minnesota players either. While neither team would have had an excuse regarding the quality of players they did play, had they lost, but it cannot be said that either side was 100%.
As mentioned, the first period was worrying. You cannot afford to play any less than 60 minutes against Colorado, Vegas or Minnesota. The Blues need to get used to playing full games and hitting the ice running right from puck drop.
The second period was more than impressive. St. Louis needs to bottle up this second period and take that with them everywhere they go this playoff run.
The third period was good as well. Minnesota had all but given up by that point, but the Blues also dominated them to keep them from even thinking about re-entering the contest, which is something they’ve allowed too often.
Looking ahead, the Blues need to refocus to take down Colorado. The Avalanche present an entirely different set of problems, including one of the most dynamic top lines in the entire NHL.
Nevertheless, there is reason to have hope for this series. If the Blues can take all the positives from this game, couple them with the kind of physicality we saw that won the Cup and also get more players healthy, St. Louis will have every opportunity to win.