By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are in closeout mode on Saturday, and closing out the Winnipeg Jets is highly on their radar.
The Blues and Jets will play Game 6 of the Western Conference first round (6 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), and with the Blues holding a 3-2 series lead and the chance to eliminate the Jets tonight, now would be the perfect time for the home team to finally win a game.
Road teams are a perfect 5-0 in this series, the first time since the 2004 Western Conference Final between San Jose and Calgary that it's been done and only the fourth time in NHL history in the seven-game series format it's been done.
And it has left the looming question of why two teams that were really good on home ice haven't been able to get it done.
"Jeez, I don't know. It's crazy," Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "It's nuts, but hopefully we can turn that around tonight. We'll make sure to do it. It's been crazy that way. We've been a good road team all year. We've just got to start winning at home too.
"... I don't know what it is. We've got the crowd behind us, they've got the crowd behind them. In Winnipeg, you've got everything set up for you. It might be one play that determines the game. To have 'Schenner' score that goal, that was a big one, and 'Schwartzy' at the end."
The Blues, who have lost eight straight Game 6's dating to April 21, 2001 when they won 2-1 at San Jose, will try to be the exception to the norm in this series. However, five of those games were elimination games for the Blues, but when they were up 3-2 in the series, they've won two of three Game 7's.
"We've just been taking it one game at a time, tonight's a new game and a new opportunity," said Blues center Tyler Bozak, who set up Jaden Schwartz's game-winner with 15 seconds left in regulation. "They're a great hockey team and they don't want their season to end. They're going to have their best and we're going to have to match that."
Blues interim coach Craig Berube expects the Blues to have the zip they had in Game 4 here, and that's why he doesn't overplay that this is anything different than another playoff game.
"No, I don't think so. Obviously the Jets are in a must-win situation," Berube said. "You've got to match their desperation, and we've got to be ready for that. But on the other side of it, we're at home here and we need to come out energized, and we will, and play our game."
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When Berube changed his lineup around for the third period in Game 5 which resulted in three unanswered goals and a 3-2 Blues win, it showed the aggressive nature of the Blues' game.
Instead of just being content with overtime Friday, they went for it, and continued to push the initiative and eventually, won the game.
"Yeah, sometimes it gives them a spark," Berube said. "I think it gave us a little more energy and a spark there. Putting [Brayden] Brayden in the middle, he hasn't been there in a while. He was excited about it. I thought that line was really good. In saying that, the first period the other night, they got off obviously to a quick start and we got behind. But I liked that first period. I thought we had a pretty good first period other than the first shift."
The Blues flipped Schenn and David Perron, who moved to left wing with Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, while Schenn moved back to his natural center position with Schwartz and moved Oskar Sundqvist to the right wing.
"It's a great coaching move," O'Reilly said. "Sometimes you have to make adjustments, give them a different look. They've seen that look, that's all they've seen, so it changes things up, provides a different spark and a different look offensively and off the rush. It takes them out of the comfort zone and us as well and it gives us a spark there.
"I think our game slowly built. It wasn't a great start, getting scored on right away, but from then on, we gradually built our game up, it started to get better and better by the third, there was no panic, we're going to be aggressive, let's go at them and that's what we did and we got some good bounces and put the puck in the net. They tightened up and it we just had the ice tilted there for a bit and it was a resilient win."
But with so much on the line for Game 6, does that aggressive initiative stay in place?
"It's tough," O'Reilly said. "The situations are completely different. In a sense, there are a lot of things we have to do similar, with that aggressiveness and establishing it right away. We still haven't had the game where we came out and dictated right off the bat. The start's obviously really important for us. We just have to take it one at a time, one shift at a time, and find a way to win more battles than they do."
That's why the start tonight will be imperative, and the Blues have to expect desperation from the Jets.
"Score quicker than 12 seconds," Gunnarsson said jokingly. "... They're going to be desperate. They're down 3-2. If you can just imagine if we were in the same situation, you're going to pour it all in. You have to. We've got to be ready for that. We've got to play the same way. We don't want to go back and play one more game in Winnipeg. Instead, play this one like it's the last one."
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Speaking of O'Reilly, the offseason nominations are slowly filtering through and after already being the Blues' nominee for the King Clancy Trophy Tuesday and being named a finalist for the Selke Trophy on Wednesday, O'Reilly was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy on Thursday.
"It's exciting to be nominated again," said O'Reilly, who won the Lady Byng in 2014. "I take a lot of pride in that. I want to be as effective as I possibly can, especially defensively without taking penalties. It's nice to be up for that again. It was funny, when I first got here, I had that mindset of being too tough to play against and taking too many penalties. I calmed down a bit."
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Gunnarsson's insertion in the lineup seemed to be a smooth transition for the Blues in Game 5.
He replaced Robert Bortuzzo, who Berube said is available to play, and played 18 minutes 23 seconds. He started with Joel Edmundson but quickly moved up with Alex Pietrangelo and dropped Vince Dunn down with Edmundson.
"You try to ramp yourself up," Gunnarsson said. "It's not tough to get yourself going for these kind of games. You just want to make sure to be ready, not be too nervous.
"I thought I felt great. Obviously the boys are already buzzing and just helping me out there. I felt good, yeah."
Look for Gunnarsson to remain in the lineup.
"I thought he was really good," Berube said. "Showed a lot of composure. Made some real good small-area plays. He's a smart player. Defended well. He hasn't played a ton, but Gunny's a good player."
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The parity of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is none more evident than what these 2019 postseason series are bringing.
For the first time in league history, the top two seeds (Tampa Bay and Calgary) have both been eliminated in the first round, and the Lightning, who were swept by Columbus, and Flames, who bowed out Friday against Colorado in five games, combined for one win.
"I think that's the coolest part about the NHL, every team that's in the playoffs can beat every team and I think that makes for a really entertaining and competitive playoff," Bozak said. "I'm sure the fans love it. As a player, you know if you get in the playoffs, you have a chance. That's the coolest part about our game, there's no guarantees in the first round, everybody has an opportunity to win and it's showing that this year."
"I think it shows the parity of the league, how good it is," O'Reilly said. "I'm shocked the two top teams in the league, they win one game in two series, that's crazy. I have to give credit to those teams. Watching a few of those games, they played outstanding. It's just sometimes the matchup, the way you come in to the playoffs can affect a lot."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
David Perron-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Vince Dunn
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Michael Del Zotto, Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Jared Coreau. The Blues report no injuries, although there is some question whether Bortuzzo is dealing with an injury or not.
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The Jets' projected lineup:
Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Nikolaj Ehlers-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine
Andrew Copp-Adam Lowry-Brandon Tanev
Mathieu Perreault-Kevin Hayes-Jack Roslovic
Josh Morrissey-Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot-Dustin Byfuglien
Dmitry Kulikov-Tyler Myers
Connor Hellebuyck will start in goal; Laurent Brossoit will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Matt Hendricks, Nathan Beaulieu, Par Lindholm, Joe Morrow, Bogdan Kiselevich, Sami Niku and Eric Comrie. The Jets report no injuries, although Ehlers did not skate and is a game-time decision after blocking a Parayko shot in the third period and did not return. If he cannot play, the expectation is Lindholm will jump into his spot.
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