At the All-Star break in late January, could you have ever imagined that the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators would be battling for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference!? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Last year’s late-season story was the Capitals, as they stormed back from outta nowhere to surpass Carolina for the division. This year, we’ve got two of them.
The Preds and Blues were 14th and 15th in the West, respectively, at the break. They were dead in the water, even though they were within striking distance of the 8th seed. But both had A LOT of work to do to get where they are now. Here’s how it happened…
Their first wave of success actually came in early January, when they won 3 of 4 and Steve Sullivan returned from injury. But Nashville entered the break by losing 3 in a row, including an embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Thrashers at home. Their goal after the break was to win 2 of 3 the rest of the way. The Preds won 8 of 13 coming out of the gates, and were showing some signs of life.
Down 3-1 to Chicago after 2 periods in a game late in February, the team was being dominated. Then came the charge that turned the season around! Legwand, Dumont, Ward, and Weber all scored in the 3rd period to beat the Blackhawks, 5-3. Then after a win over the ‘Yotes, the Red Wings came to town for a huge tilt. The Preds put together a historic effort and trounced Detroit 8-0. Right then and there, you knew this team was in it for the long haul. Nashville finished the home-stand with wins over Edmonton and Columbus.
A 3-game losing streak early in March was a setback for the Preds, and needed to put together a solid Pacific road trip to stay in the hunt. Pekka Rinne led the Preds to a 2-0-2 trip, and the team was sitting in 8th place heading into a huge 3-game home-stand. With Arnott and Legwand out for most/all of that stretch, Nashville put together 3 comeback victories, including one at Detroit. After 2 bumps in the road on the road, the latest chapter was written on Saturday. ‘Captain Clutch’… AKA Jason Arnott… came back with a vengeance and propelled the Preds to a much-needed win over the Blue Jackets.
To me, the best coaching decision Barry Trotz made in these last 2 months was putting the Arnott/Sullivan/Dumont line back together. Those 3 have shown amazing chemistry, and did so again in the 3rd period against the Jackets. Even though they didn’t produce a goal, they’ll be ready to go when Chicago comes to town on Tuesday.
St. Louis Blues:
On January 19, the Blues played a matinee game in Boston on MLK Day. They entered the game with a record of 17-23-4, sitting dead last in the West. St. Louis was down 4-2 with less than 2 minutes to go… but ended up tying the game with less than 1 second left courtesy of David Backes. They won the game in a shootout and I remember after watching that game, thinking to myself ‘That’s a win that can change a season around’. Well, ever since Chris Mason has started EVERY game for the Blues, and they have chipped away to get into a dead heat with the Preds for 8th in the conference.
The team doesn’t have a long winning streak to its credit. Their longest winning streak is 5 games, which happened just recently. Other than that, they only have one winning streak of 3 or more games. They’ve won 3 of 5, 4 of 6, 2 of 3… that sorta thing to climb back into the race.
And probably the most surprising thing about this late-season push is the play of their kids/rookies. T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron have been tremendous for this team. Since the start of February, here are their individual stats:
Oshie… 24 points in 30 games, +9 rating
Berglund… 16 points in 30 games, +8 rating
Perron… 19 points in 31 games, +8 rating
And it’s not just about the stats with these 3; they’ve sparked this team and have given it new life. Other obvious key offensive contributors have been Backes, Andy McDonald, and Brad Boyes.
But let’s talk about Mason. Mason was acquired from Nashville in exchange for a 4th round pick in last summer’s draft. He failed (mightily) to live up to expectations last year as he compiled a record of 18-22-6, along with a goals against of 2.90 with the Preds. He goes to St. Louis to back up Manny Legace, and I initially thought he’d be a good fit. But Mason started the season 3-11-1, looking like the goalie that was traded by the Preds. ‘Mase’, though, has been the unsung hero to the Blues’ revival… going 21-10-6 since New Year’s Day.
Now here we are… April 7th, with just 6 days left in the NHL’s regular season. They’re both trying to complete an astonishing 2nd half push to make the postseason. No matter what happens between now and Sunday, one of these teams will end up being one the best stories of the year!
It's the best time of year!
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