Saturday, April 13, 2019


Blues ready to see a sea of blue as series shifts to Enterprise Center, not taking 
2-0 lead for granted; need more from special teams; Sundqvist's resume grows

ST. LOUIS -- Being a Manitoba native, Joel Edmundson has heard of and seen visually what the 'Winnipeg Whiteout' is all about. 

A loud, compact building that the Winnipeg Jets play in at Bell MTS Place chalk full of fans wearing white-clad shirts, jerseys, facial wear, anything. You name it, it's white.

The defenseman grew up two hours west of Winnipeg in Brandon, but Edmundson and his Blues teammates were able to turn the Whiteout into a version of 'Lights Out', as in turn out the lights, the party's over. At least for Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference first round series.

The Blues took the first two games on the road, and now that they return home to what should be an unbelievably boisterous home crowd looking to 'Bleed Blue,' they can really grab a stranglehold of this series and take a commanding 3-0 lead with a chance to sweep on Tuesday. 

Which is why Edmundson, from Brandon, Manitoba, thinks, "I think it's going to be louder than this," Edmundson said. "I'm expecting an unreal crowd. They've been supporting us all year, so I know they're really looking forward to Games 3 and 4."

Nobody would have ever imagined it going in, but this is the reality of it. The Blues have the Jets down, not out, but really in a precarious position.

"It’s a tough league, like this is a real good hockey team that we beat twice here, a really good hockey team and they’re going to give us their best game (in) Game 3 at home," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "There’s no reason to get too high, you’ve got to stay ready and we’ve got to play even better than we played."

That's why the Blues are keeping a level head, not thinking that they're half way there. They've been in this position before and lost the series in six games. It's not often that it happens, but it is possible.

Teams that win the first two games of a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series own an all-time series record of 318-50 (86.4 percent). It's been done 92 times on the road, and 72 went on to win the series (72-20, 78.3 percent).

The Blues have went on to win the first two games on the road three times in the past (2017 in the first round at the Minnesota Wild, 2001 in the Conference Semifinal at the Dallas Stars and 1993 in the Division Semifinal at the Chicago Blackhawks) and were 12-1 in those series, including series sweeps against the Stars and Blackhawks. 

St. Louis has also went up 2-0 in 2013 against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round and 2014 against the Blackhawks in the first round and proceeded to lose each series in six games, and a number of those players were on the Blues roster then.

"It's good for us," said Blues forward pat Maroon, who scored to tie Friday's game 2-2 in the second period. "Coming into this barn, it's a hard barn to play. But to take two is a really good sign for this team. But that doesn't mean anything. We've got to focus on Game 3 right now. We know they're going to come hard. We've got to continue what we're doing."

One thing the Blues don't want to continue what they're doing is looking around and seeing that white sea of towels waving. They're ready for the blue wave that will encompass their barn.

"It's going to be rocking and really loud," said Blues center Oskar Sundqvist, who scored his first two career playoff goals Friday. "I'm looking forward to it."

The Blues won their final seven regular season games at home and 14 of the last 16, so whatever confidence they gained in Winnipeg will just be magnified that much more on home ice.

"I think it's going to be great," Blues rookie forward Robert Thomas said. "Our fans, probably the last 10 home games have been awesome for us. I'm sure it'll be ramped up a lot and I'm really excited."

* Fix the special teams -- The Blues have had their chances, and there's a Jets penalty kill unit that wasn't very good in the regular season, but St. Louis is 0-for-7 on the man advantage, including a short 17-second 5-on-3.

"We've had some good opportunities," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who scored the eventual game-winner Friday. "We have to maybe simplify a bit, maybe shoot pucks more. There are things that can dramatically affect the outcome and it's something we're obviously going to take time, review it and get that sorted out."

The Blues had three consecutive power plays, albeit one abbreviated, in the first period and could have opened up a bigger lead when they were up 1-0 on a Sundqvist goal. But they couldn't convert, including an Alex Pietrangelo shot off the iron, and not long after Blake Wheeler tied the game and allowed Winnipeg to grab some momentum.

And the Jets' lethal power play was 2-for-3 against the Blues' solid PK.

"Well, we could have had two goals on the power play tonight," Berube said. "I thought Petro hit the post. That quick 5-on-3, I thought it just bounced on O’Reilly a little bit. We had some chances that didn’t go in. Broken stick on the one play, so [Patrik] Laine, you give him that look, he’s probably going to score. And then the other one, we’ve got to do a better job on the other one for sure at the end of the second period."

It's not often a team that loses the specialty teams like that wins a game, but the Blues were really good 5-on-5 and got the first Sundqvist goal in a 4-on-4 situation. Nevertheless, the Blues want to be better on the special teams.

"I think we can get some more shots on net," Thomas said. "We're trying to be a little too cute with it. You've got to give them credit, they're taking away our time and options. I think we've just got to simplify it a bit and keep going and I think it'll work out."

* The legend of Sundqvist -- The Blues and their fans got to witness the unveiling of who Sundqvist is and what he has meant to their success this season, but to those seeing him for the first time in this series are quickly finding out how versatile and valuable a guy that wasn't even a lock to make the opening night roster has been.

Not only did Sundqvist score his first two Stanley Cup Playoff goals in just his fourth postseason game, he also was valuable defensively, including on the penalty kill, winning faceoffs and he was drilled in the third period on a hard check from Winnipeg's Adam Lowry, but got up and kept on fighting.

"It's a clean hit, both times," Sundqvist said. "We can't take stupid penalties. You see tonight how good their power play is. We need to stay out of the box and I think we did a good job of that in the third."

But just in case those on the outside need a refresher, O'Reilly best describes Sundqvist.

"He took a beating tonight. He fights for everything," O'Reilly said. "You look at how hard he works out there. There's never a shift off, he's physical, he's making plays, he's obviously shooting the puck real well. He's doing whatever it takes and he's a huge reason why we won this game tonight."

Even O'Reilly admitted not knowing much about the Swede before this season.

"Not really," he said. "There's a few guys I didn't really know. Throughout the year, he's just impressed me more and more. He just seems to keep getting better and better and impacting the game more and more."

* Blues staying disciplined -- The Jets keep on hitting and the Blues keep on keeping their cool.

That's been a staple to the series and another reason why the Blues are up 2-0.

It's been talked about that staying disciplined against the Jets and not giving them multiple man-advantages would be to their benefit, and thus far, the Blues have not taken any retaliatory penalties.

And who's more thankful for that than anything? Blues goalie Jordan Binnington.

"That's important in playoffs, right," Binnington said. "You've got to stay composed and they're a heavy team. They like to take the body. We kept our cool and we focused on our game. It's been good."

"This time of year you can’t retaliate," Berube said. "You’ve got to be disciplined. You’re going to get hit and you’ve got to get up and play."

And the Blues have, but and it seems to be taking a toll on the Jets, who have taken some undisciplined penalties themselves, including two on O'Reilly on hits from behind.

"Yeah, that happens. I think sometimes there's penalties," O'Reilly said. "We have to be sharper on the power play and make them pay. That stuff happens." 

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