Friday, May 14, 2021

With tough road down the stretch, Blues persevered in pursuit of playoff berth

Team had to battle top three teams in West Division down the stretch, 
gain points in order to make it into playoffs; finished 8-1-3 in final 12 games

ST. LOUIS -- It was a grim night for the Blues on April 7.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Robert Thomas (18) and the Blues had to battle their way into the playoffs
down the stretch by beating the likes of Scott Bjugstad (27) and Minnesota.

Not only did they just get pasted and embarrassed, 6-1, at home against the Vegas Golden Knights, but at the time, they were three points in back of the Arizona Coyotes for the fourth and final playoff berth from the West Division that would grow to five, and after losing the final head-to-head matchup against the Coyotes, 3-2 after leading 2-0, on April 17 to allow Arizona to slip back into the fourth seed by a point, the grip was slowly slipping away even though the Blues had games in hand.

"It was a tough loss in Arizona," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "... It was a big game and we didn't really treat it like a big game. I'm not saying they didn't have that mindset going into that game, but we didn't play like it, and I think guys realized how well we had to play down the stretch here and come together and do things to get into the playoffs, and our backs were against the wall a little bit and the guys responded really well."

The loss to Vegas dropped the Blues to 0-6-1, picking up just one of 14 available points in a time in which they could have firmly gained an edge and cast the necessary doubt to the Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings that their chance of perhaps gaining that final entry into the Stanley Cup Playoffs was just a pipe dream.

But as it turned out, the Blues, who concluded the regular season with three straight wins after a 7-3 victory against Minnesota on Thursday, were in need of a late-season push to gain steam, and they needed to do the majority of it against the three teams ahead of them in the standings and in my mood to feel sorry for them.

"That was a tough stretch for us," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "There was a lot of adversity there, things weren't going well, we were finding ways to lose hockey games. We could have gotten selfish and everyone worried about themselves, but we came together and that was every single guy in the room that decided that they're going to start working for each other and make it easy on each other. We didn't necessarily worry about winning or getting into the playoffs. It was just out-competing and putting in those details and once we did that, we started to build it and you can see that's when things started to roll and we started to find ways to win games. It was impressive. Everyone did a good job in rallying and coming together. We feel good going into the playoffs."

In the final 18 games, the Blues were 11-4-3 overall, and in those games, they were 9-3-2 against the Avalanche, Golden Knights and Wild, who finished first, second and third, respectively in the division.

"In our division, we played against the teams that were out of the playoffs and we didn't do well against them and kind of set ourselves up in almost a bad position," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. "If you were to look back, 20, 22 games ago or whatever it may be, guys stepped up, guys came together as a team, guys bought in and good things happen when you do that. We played Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota pretty much the whole time here for the last 20 or 22 here or whatever it was. It's nice to see we come together as a team and bought in and played good teams. Hopefully that really gets us ready for the playoffs here. We've been playing hard games, meaningful games for a while now and that's what's going happen here coming up.

And coming up is a date with the Presidents' Trophy winning Avalanche, who finished 39-13-4 and are the top overall seed heading into the playoffs.

Colorado is the prohibitive favorite to win it all this year, and the Blues are just a stop gap on the way to reaching the pinnacle.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Next up for Jordan Kyrou (25) and the Blues is a date with Devon Toews
(7) and the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. 

But let's not forget that the Blues have 15 players and with Stanley Cup-winning experience, including Kyle Clifford, a two-time winner with the Kings.

"I'm not going to sit here and say we're not underdogs going against either Colorado or Vegas, but at the same time, we're a real good hockey team," Berube said before the outcome of Colorado's game Thursday. "I know that we've got 11 or 12 Stanley Cup champions on our team that won, they know how to win. We can go out and compete with anybody."

NOTES -- The Blues announced on Friday that the City of St. Louis Department of Health has authorized the team to increase its home capacity to 9,000 fans, or nearly 50 percent of Enterprise Center.

That means beginning with Game 3 against the Avalanche on Friday, May 21, half of the building will have fans for the first time since before the pandemic in March of 2020.

The measure marks the biggest percentage increase for the Blues over the balance of a home schedule that started Jan. 18. The raise in capacity allowance is due, in part, to the sustained success of the team’s implementation of local and NHL safety protocols, the utilization of the building’s HVAC system to enhance air filtration, compliance by fans attending games in Enterprise Center and positive trends in COVID-19 metrics. 

"The timing of this good news is serendipitous with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it’s truly a credit to everyone – our health care workers, city officials, fans and many others – who have been committed to doing the right thing throughout this pandemic," Blues president of business operations and CEO Chris Zimmerman said in a statement. "Everyone with our team, and especially the players, are thrilled that we can have half of Enterprise Center filled safely and responsibly with Blues fans at the most important time of the season. I know our fans will make it sound and feel like a full house, and that’s inspiring not only for our team, but for the community as well."

While capacity will increase, marks are still required inside the building and the Blues will continue to monitor and take direction from city, state and NHL guidelines concerning face coverings. All tickets are mobile-only, bags are not permitted and Enterprise Center remains a cash-free environment. A complete list of guidelines and procedures can be found at

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