The St. Louis Blues came into Buffalo on a six-game winning streak. Despite being on the outside of the playoffs, the Buffalo Sabres proved to be a feisty opponent.
Buffalo came out strong in the opening minutes. Jordan Binnington proved to be up to the task, but the Sabres were creating a lot of good chances.
St. Louis settled into the game, but it also became much more of an Eastern Conference game. The contest was open and back and forth.
While the Blues had started to have the better of the play, it was Buffalo to strike first. A long shot from the point got tipped on the way through and the Sabres had a 1-0 lead just over 12 minutes in.
It seemed as though the first period would end with that score. However, the Blues earned a five-on-three power play and actually made Buffalo pay.
St. Louis worked the puck around the perimeter nicely. They found David Perron on the left circle and his one-time slapshot whistled into the upper right corner to tie it.
The Blues took advantage of the power play in the second period as well. Just 17 seconds into the frame, Brandon Saad tucked one inside the blocker-side post for a 2-1 lead.
That only lasted about four minutes. St. Louis couldn’t get the puck out and Alex Tuch used the traffic in front to beat Binnington to the left pad and a 2-2 game.
St. Louis had the better of the finishes after that. Vladimir Tarasenko got two.
On the first one, Tarasenko finished off another classy bit of passing from his linemates with Robert Thomas finding Pavel Buchnevich on the left of the goal. The Russian duo connected with a nice, soft pass across the slot for a Vladi finish.
Tarasenko busted out the old moves on his second. He pulled the same move as a few years ago in New York, reaching out on the backhand and just letting it float in for a 4-2 lead on the breakaway.
Buffalo had their chances. Frankly, they should have scored one or two and it could have been a 4-4 game with all the breakouts they were handed.
Instead of worrying about their mistakes, the Blues just did their own thing. They tightened up a little bit in the third and that was all that was necessary.
Buffalo did still get a push in the third. They ended up with 17 shots on goal.
Even so, it never felt like they were a true threat to come back after the second period. Binnington made the saves, the defense cleared the rebounds and St. Louis got some insurance goals.
Buchnevich scored one just over six minutes in, to make it 3-2. You can argue whether he actually scored it or not, but the puck crossed the goal line and it touched him at some point beforehand.
Tarasenko put the icing on the cake. He put one right down main street into an empty net and the Blues left Buffalo with a 6-2 win.
It was a little bittersweet to beat Buffalo in their legendary broadcaster Rick Jeanneret’s final call against the Blues. St. Louis has lost plenty of games in sentimental moments too, so that’s just part of sports.
Remember when the horde was at the gates demanding Tarasenko be traded? He’ll never even get 10 goals again, much less 30.
Tarasenko continues to prove people wrong.
After the Buffalo game, Tarasenko now has 71 points on the year. That’s just four points away from tying his career high.
He has 31 goals now too. He’s not going to get another nine or 10 in the few games that remain, but almost nobody thought he would score 20, much less 30 (except me).
The truth is that we’ve always undervalued Tarasenko because of what he can do, instead of enjoying what he has done. The reality is he’s never failed to score 30 goals in a full season when he was healthy.
He did not hit 30 the last two because of the pandemic and his shoulder issues. He did not in his second year, but only played in 64 games too.
Tarasenko is clearly enjoying the game again and the Blues are reaping the benefits. Maybe they still win 3-2 without his goals, but Tarasenko got the game winner for the second game in a row and the 10th this season.
Going into the playoffs, the Blues defense is still the worrying factor. They are capable of shutting teams down, but they’re capable of mind blowing gaffes too.
Not even midway through the third period, the Blues were behind by a margin of 7-2 in terms of odd-man rushes. Credit to the youth and speed of Buffalo, but a lot of that is just poor execution and puck possession by the Blues.
To be honest, this game either could have been closer or maybe even had the result go the wrong way if Buffalo could finish. Several of their chances did not even result in a shot as they either put it high or wide or missed on a pass.
The Blues absolutely have to clean this stuff up to win in the playoffs. You want your goaltender to be good every night, but you can’t depend on that every night either. The Blues are right now.
For the second game in a row for him, Jordan Binnington was a big reason the Blues won the game. Let’s not overstate things.
The Sabres were not storming the gates with pitchforks and torches while Binnington was Hodor, holding a flimsy door shut for his teammates. Nevertheless, Buffalo had 37 shots.
Many of those, especially in the opening minutes of the game, were high quality chances. Just the fact that Binnington made 35 saves shows you enough about the night he had.
This was a fun game, but it was not a Blues game in terms of preparing for the playoffs. There was next to no physicality and it was a track meet.
That’s just not the style the Blues need to be engaged in. They can handle it, but they’re not really built that way.
The team was led by their red hot top line. Earlier in the season, I really hoped Jordan Kyrou would stick as the other winger on that line, but Buchnevich has just found another level of compatibility with Thomas and Tarasenko.
Binnington playing well is nothing but a good thing. Get both goalies hot going into the playoffs and you’re that much more comfortable pulling someone if the team is off or if the starter just has an off night.
St. Louis is losing the faceoffs a little too much lately, though 45% to 55% isn’t a terrible margin.
The Blues willingness to block shots lately is definitely a good sign for the playoffs. The defense might make mistakes and allow breakouts, but if they’re willing to sacrifice their body, that’s what playoff hockey is about.
Overall, this win isn’t a huge deal. It’s almost surely going to be Minnesota vs. St. Louis now and only home ice has to be decided.
Still, you need to be taking care of these kinds of teams. Have these occasional “easy” games where you can get the fourth line guys solid minutes and let others take a longer breather.
Now the Blues need to refocus. They’ve got back-to-backs against Minnesota and Nashville this weekend and can keep those teams at arm’s length with a couple more wins.