A team that saw its Stanley Cup dreams melt away like the springtime ice on the Mississippi has somehow managed to revive itself. After stirring performances in back-to-back-to-back come-from-behind overtime victories this past week, the St. Louis Blues suddenly find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
Now or Never for St. Louis Blues Playoff Hopes
A Roller Coaster Ride
Thus far in the 2017-18 season, the Blues have been up-and-down like none in recent memory. They came out strong early, winning 21 of their first 32 games through mid-December. Afterward, the team took a nosedive, posting only 14 wins in 35 games over a three-month period through March 10th. The low point was a dismal 2-0 shutout loss on the road against the San Jose Sharks on March 8th. At that stage, the Blues were five points out of the last wild-card slot in the West and sinking fast.
On the Rebound
Hopes were dim as the team headed into a nationally-televised contest against their old nemesis, the Los Angeles Kings, on Saturday, March 10th at Staples Center. Amazingly, the Blues responded with their biggest goal-scoring output of the year in a 7-2 shellacking of the Kings. They beat the Anaheim Ducks two nights later and suddenly, instead of falling permanently out of contention as had been feared only a few days earlier, they were squarely back in the race for a wild-card spot. In fact, only a home-ice loss to the Colorado Avalanche has blemished their record since the game against the Ducks as they have won five of their last six games.
On three consecutive nights, the Blues made what was perhaps their most impressive showing of the entire season. They came back to win three straight games in overtime, both times after trailing in the third period. The first was against the New York Rangers at home. Then they did it again the following night against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.
Not to be outdone, they came back home on Wednesday night and did it once again, this time against the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 overtime thriller that saw Jaden Schwartz score both goals for the Blues. Amazingly, it was the first time in the history of the franchise that they had come back from third-period deficits to win three games in a row and also the first time they had won three straight in overtime. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We knew (the resolve) was in there, but obviously we’re finding it at the right time at least,” Blues coach Mike Yeo told NHL.com.
The improbable wins leave the boys in blue three points behind both the Ducks and the Avalanche for a wild-card spot with a game in hand. They face off tonight in a battle against the Vancouver Canucks at Scottrade Center.
The Home Stretch
As the Blues enter the final nine games of the season, they find themselves in a position where they literally cannot afford to lose. With Anaheim, Colorado and Los Angeles all within three points of them and only two wild-card slots available, it becomes evident that half of these teams are going to be hitting the golf course early this year. If the Blues don’t want to be one of them, they need to keep playing the way they have over this final two-week stretch. To do that, they need to do the following:
Get solid goaltending from Jake Allen
With Carter Hutton out indefinitely with a neck injury, the goaltending burden lies squarely on Jake Allen’s shoulders. Allen has been shaky at best for much of the year but has looked more stable in recent games. In order for them to qualify for the playoffs, he must be outstanding in net for the Blues to have a chance.
Get secondary scoring
The Blues have gotten a disproportionate share of goals from their top three forwards (Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz) for much of the season. With Paul Stastny traded to the Winnipeg Jets, they need for secondary forwards like Alexander Steen, Ivan Barbashev and Patrik Berglund to step up and contribute. Likewise, the defence, which went into a bit of a scoring lull during the middle part of the season, has picked up the goal-scoring pace once again with team captain Alex Pietrangelo leading the way. This is a trend that desperately needs to continue for them.
Ramp up the power play
The Blues’ power play is, in a word, pathetic. It ranks third worst in the league at 15.8 percent. Mike Yeo and his staff must find a way to get these numbers up, and fast.
Pick up the garbage
Way too many of the Blues shots this season have come from the perimeter. In order to win the battle for a playoff spot, they must be able to get the puck down low, crash the net and pick up some garbage goals on occasion. They just don’t have enough legitimate firepower to overwhelm their opponents with offence. They will need some ugly goals along the way.
Grit and grind
The Blues must continue to bang the boards, dig for loose pucks and be physical in order to have a chance of being successful. Again, their offensive prowess is not enough to dominate many other teams so they must outwork their opponent in order to have a chance.
It might sound trite but there is literally no margin for error going forward for the Blues. Will they be up to the challenge? Well, it’s now or never so we’ll soon find out as down the stretch we go.