Saturday, April 30, 2022

Blues begin playoff push as road warriors against Wild

Just like 2019 when they won Cup, Blues to open with Games 1-2 away 
from home, they're fine with that, actually give a sense that they prefer it

ST. LOUIS -- Home ice advantage would have been nice for the Blues, sure.

But in the end, a veteran-savvy group really doesn't care whether they open at home or on the road, which they will do on Monday when the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begin against the Minnesota Wild.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk (72) is being pursued by Wild forward Matt
Boldy in a recent game between the teams at Enterprise Center.

"If it's Game 1 in Minnesota vs. Game 1 here, I don't think our mindset's going to change at all," Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. "I don't think anyone's going to sit there and think we're at a disadvantage or anything of that nature. Teams win a series on the road all the time. I don't know actually how much of an advantage it is. I know maybe the coaches like it a little bit more because they can get their matchups but as players, I don't really think about that too much. Just go out there and try to get the job done."

Exactly. Ask the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, who started three of their four series on the road en route to the Blues' first-ever title.

They started in Winnipeg, won all three games north of the border and won the series in six; they took two of three in the second round against Dallas, the only series started at home, before winning in seven games; they took two of three in San Jose, winning that series in six, and they won three of four in Boston, including Game 7, winning the Cup, and going 10-3 on the road in the postseason.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Ivan Barbashev, Colton Parayko, Tyler Bozak, Robert Bortuzzo and Jordan Binnington were all part of that road run.

"I don't mind it at all to start on the road," Perron said. "Obviously we tried to get it, but Minny getting one point (Friday) would clinch that for them. Our focus now is headed there whenever the game is and we're excited about it. It will be a great series."

Sure it will be a challenge. The Wild was 31-8-2 at Xcel Energy Center this season, tied for third in the NHL with Toronto and only behind Florida (34) and Colorado (32) for most home wins this season, but the Blues were 23-12-6 away from Enterprise Center, including 9-1-1 in their past 11 away games.

When the Blues and Wild last met in a playoff series in 2017, the Blues started that first-round series on the road and won all three games in Minnesota, winning the series in five games.

There's a comfort level on the road, and there's enough veterans on the roster to not allow the opposing crowd to affect them in a negative way.

"I think you look at our road record this year, it’s very good," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We’ve played very well down the stretch on the road. So our team’s comfortable playing on the road. I don’t think there’s an issue there.

"There’s always less distractions on the road for sure. You’re at home, you've got family and people coming into town, they want to go to playoff games and they’re always asking you for tickets and this and that. So we feel good about everything. Again, we had a good road record. Been a good road team for quite some time."
(St. Louis Blues/Scvott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) and goalie Ville Husso will be 
getting up close and personal with the Wild and forward Joel Eriksson Ek.

Only Calgary (25) and the Avalanche (24) had more wins away from home than the Blues in the Western Conference, and only the New York Rangers (22) had more regulation road wins than the Blues (21). Their 154 goals scored (3.76 per game) away from home is second to only Toronto (159); their power-play percentage was No. 1 in the NHL at 29.4 percent, and the penalty kill was third (85.1 percent), trailing only Pittsburgh (87.1) and San Jose (85.2).

Individually, Thomas was tied for eighth in the league with 31 road assists.

"I don't think it's the end of the world if we start on the road," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said after becoming the ninth skater to reach 20 or more goals Friday in the regular-season finale. "We've had success everywhere and we're a confident group. Either way, it's going to be a battle right to the end and it's just the way it's going to be.

"... We had a great regular season and the focus draws to Minny now. It's going to be a heck of a challenge."

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