TheSt. 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 quicklydeposited San Jose in five games to claim their first playoff series win since2002.
Somewondered (including yours truly) how the Blues, with one playoff appearancesince the lockout – would handle the pressure of being a heavy favorite in theplayoffs. They handled it quite wellafter a Game 1 overtime loss to the Sharks.
Down1-0 in the series, they successfully sucked the life out of the Sharks (reminiscentof their season series in which the Blues swept Todd McLellan’s club andoutscored them 11-3.) In fourconsecutive wins to close out the series, the Blues gave up a total of fivegoals to the Sharks – three of which were in garbage time.
The defensive success is a testament of Ken Hitchcock’s system that makes itlook as if opponents are playing shorthanded while at even strength. That system has lent a helping hand to makingthe goaltenders look unbeatable, and Brian Elliott was just that after fillingfor a felled Jaroslav Halak in Game 2.
Elliott,who was signed to a two-way contract last off-season, led the NHL ingoals-against average (1.56) in the regular season. His great story has carried over into theplayoffs with a stellar performance in the first round, turning away 93 of the98 shots he faced in four-plus games.
Anothergreat story is Andy McDonald, who provided oodles of timely offense for theBlues in round one. He picked up a pointin each game, including a four-point effort in a Game 3 win. His veteran presence really came through onthe power play, as he was in on all six Blues goals against a measly Sharkspenalty kill.
Whyis McDonald a great story? Over last twoseasons 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 thenleading 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 theplayoffs move forward. So will hisproduction.
TheseBlues proved to the rest of the league that they mean serious business. Though the Sharks were underachievers allyear, they still boast a talented roster that was capable of pulling theupset. Yet, they never truly threatened Hitchcock’sclub.
St.Louis was dominant following the Game 1 loss – and impressively dominant in thevaunted Shark Tank – by reverting to their winning ways from the regularseason. The power play stepped up, theirsavvy veterans were clutch, and the back end was as sound as can be.
Ifthe Blues keep this up, they’ll be tough to beat in their pursuit of a StanleyCup.Photo credit: Getty Images