The St. Louis Blues were one of the NHL’s best this season due to a simple formula: good goaltending, sound defense and timely offense. They executed that formula to a ‘T’ as they quickly deposited San Jose in five games to claim their first playoff series win since 2002.
Some wondered (including yours truly) how the Blues, with one playoff appearance since the lockout – would handle the pressure of being a heavy favorite in the playoffs. They handled it quite well after a Game 1 overtime loss to the Sharks.
Down 1-0 in the series, they successfully sucked the life out of the Sharks (reminiscent of their season series in which the Blues swept Todd McLellan’s club and outscored them 11-3.) In four consecutive wins to close out the series, the Blues gave up a total of five goals to the Sharks – three of which were in garbage time.
The defensive success is a testament of Ken Hitchcock’s system that makes it look as if opponents are playing shorthanded while at even strength. That system has lent a helping hand to making the goaltenders look unbeatable, and Brian Elliott was just that after filling for a felled Jaroslav Halak in Game 2.
Elliott, who was signed to a two-way contract last off-season, led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) in the regular season. His great story has carried over into the playoffs with a stellar performance in the first round, turning away 93 of the 98 shots he faced in four-plus games.
Another great story is Andy McDonald, who provided oodles of timely offense for the Blues in round one. He picked up a point in each game, including a four-point effort in a Game 3 win. His veteran presence really came through on the power play, as he was in on all six Blues goals against a measly Sharks penalty kill.
Why is McDonald a great story? Over last two seasons he has missed 75 games due to a concussion. He has shown no ill effects of the injury, picking up 20 points in 22 regular season games after his return and then leading the Blues with eight points in this series. McDonald has a Stanley Cup on his resume (2007 Anaheim Ducks) and his experience will be invaluable for the Blues as the playoffs move forward. So will his production.
These Blues proved to the rest of the league that they mean serious business. Though the Sharks were underachievers all year, they still boast a talented roster that was capable of pulling the upset. Yet, they never truly threatened Hitchcock’s club.
St. Louis was dominant following the Game 1 loss – and impressively dominant in the vaunted Shark Tank – by reverting to their winning ways from the regular season. The power play stepped up, their savvy veterans were clutch, and the back end was as sound as can be.
If the Blues keep this up, they’ll be tough to beat in their pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
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