Friday, May 20, 2022

Blues make right adjustments, even best-of-7 series with Avalanche following 4-1 win in Game 2

Perron scores twice to lead offense; Berube mixes lines up again, 
works to perfection; Blues stymie, kill Colorado's speed, forecheck game

DENVER -- The Blues said all the right things before the game, that they'll be better, that they'll make the necessary adjustments, that they'll be more responsible with the puck, that they'll forecheck better.

Check, check, check, and check ... in a resounding way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Pavel Buchnevich and David Perron (right) celebrate after a Perron goal in
Game 2 of a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

The Blues bounced back in a big way, following up their overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche with a 4-1 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference second round series at Ball Arena on Thursday.

The series heads back to St. Louis on Saturday tied 1-1.

In their 3-2 overtime loss here on Tuesday, the score wasn't as close it it ended. Jordan Binnington, who didn't have to be as acrobatic and literally standing on his head like he was in Game 1 with 51 saves, made 30 saves on Thursday.

It all starts with coach Craig Berube, who instills the confidence in his players. They knew they had to be better with the puck, they knew they had to be better in front of their goalie and not allow the Avalanche to use Binnington as a shooting gallery, which they did to the tune of 106 shot attempts (54 on goal) to the Blues' 45 (25 on goal). Their overall puck play wasn't good enough, and in turn, there was no sustained offensive zone time. That all, among other things, needed to change.

"He's awesome," said Blues forward David Perron, who scored twice Thursday. "After the game (Tuesday), even the feeling that I had in the meal room, just kind of everyone was still loose and the next day, we come in and we watch video, we saw a lot of the things that we didn't do well and he was pretty vocal about it, did a great job of bringing it to us and saying what he had to say and we responded. It was great."

Berube and the coaching staff pointed things out to the players, the things they did wrong, and there were plenty of issues. Players got the message, implemented a game plan and executed accordingly.

"Well, our forecheck and our offensive zone play. We did a good job," Berube said. "We forechecked hard tonight. We put pucks to good areas, we were on it, we had numbers on it all night and made them play in their own end. Then, when the pucks over or they get possession, we reloaded well and I thought we did a good job coming back in our own zone, protecting the middle of the ice and our D did a hell of a job defending the rush, defending in our zone.

"Way more connected all over the ice. Puck support, making plays, we did a much better job of that.

"I've seen it all year, we're a good team. We played good hockey all year. It's a good group of guys that want to win. They know Game 1 they didn't do well enough and all year they've responded. You go over things, and you tell them why and you show them why and they respond."

Berube is a master at knowing what buttons to push and when to push them, and he mixed the lines up in order to get some more balance offensively, like moving Pavel Buchnevich up to play with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron.

"We were pretty comfortable," Perron said. "We made some good plays. We also can be even better, which is a good sign when you play a good game. It was exciting to play with 'Buch'. I haven't had the chance really and I've seen so many of his passes this year, goals, plays defensive awareness, all that stuff. To be on the ice doing it with him is a good feeling."

It was evident the Blues were going to be in the battle from the drop of the puck. They outshot the Avs 14-9 in the opening period and even left some scoring chances on the ice by not shooting the puck. But overall, it was trending in the right direction.

"Yeah, exactly. It was for sure just from the first shift playing down in their zone a lot more," Perron said. "There's going to be shifts, our line playing against those guys (Nathan MacKinnon line) were just in the zone for a bit. We've got to stay composed, under control and kind of minimize the chances they had and try to find that momentum the next shift because they just keep coming at you and it's all five of them with Makar and Toews. They do a great job. I thought we were pretty composed. We did a great job, and from the get-go we had a good start."

Jordan Kyrou got the scoring started when he took Samuel Girard on 1-on-1, and with the puck on end, his shot caromed off Girard's stick and over Darcy Kuemper's right shoulder on the short side for a 1-0 lead at 5:45.

But another key move from the coaching staff came late in the second period when the Blues had a 5-on-3 two-man advantage for 1:03. Berube called a time out to set up the plan for execution, and for the first time, the Blues implemented five forwards on the ice, and Buchnevich running the point for the first time in his career. And with no Torey Krug, out with a lower-body injury, running it, it gave the unit a different look that worked with Buchnevich running it.

He helped set up the first of Perron's two goals, a one-timer off the heel of Game 1 overtime hero Josh Manson's blade and through Kuemper for a 2-0 lead with 33.8 seconds left in the period.

"Well, he's got great vision and a good distributor of the puck," Berube said of Buchnevich, who had two assists in the game. "You've got Perron on one side, Vladi on the other, shooters, you know. Before that, the play he made to Robby Thomas was like high-end. That's the stuff he sees. He can run it up top there. He's reliable, too."

Buchnevich and Tarasenko played catch with the puck before Buchnevich put the puck on a tee for Perron to one-time.

"He did a great job. He was awesome," Perron said of Buchnevich. "We talked about that setup with 'Kruger' not being available right now, kind of what was going to be our 5-on-3 setup. We've seen that in the past, like five forwards go there, but I thought he made a good play early on to 'Tommer' through the seam that kind of backed off their defenseman and probably set up a little bit of room for me on the next one.

"I think only 'Buchy' was out there and 'Tommer' (before the 5-on-3). Vladi, 'O'Ry' and I were on the bench, so we were fine. Obviously just kind of collecting ourselves, making sure it was a big moment, a chance to go up 2-0 at the time. Got to find a way to score when you have that much time on the 5-on-3.

"We talked about a lot of things and when 'Kruger' went down whenever that was several games ago, the next pre-scout we had, Otter brought it up. This is the setup we're going to go if there's a 5-on-3, depending on the time, if there's 10 seconds, maybe it's not the same way. That was the reason."

The 5-on-3 came as a result of Valeri Nichushkin's goalie interference running over Binnington, who seemed upset at the time, but afterwards claimed, "Nothing really happened there."

Despite allowing an early power-play goal to Gabriel Landeskog at 1:49 of the third period to make it a 2-1 game and the Avalanche coming back with a push to tie it, Perron's timely goal at 10:31 to make it 3-1 silenced the 18,117 in attendance and put the Blues on virtual cruise control.

The play came as a result of a Andre Burakovsky turnover on a miscommunication play with Cake Makar that resulted in a 2-on-1 with Perron and Buchnevich. Perron kept it when Devon Toews didn't commit to the shot and he beat Kuemper off the bottom of his glove and in.

"Yeah, it was a tough break on the (Avs) power play goal they got," Berube said. "I thought we defending it overall, but things happen. It was a good response. Big goal (by Perron) for sure."
Perron spoke pregame of wanting to get Buchnevich a goal so bad and looked to pass but in the end, made the right play when Toews didn't make a commitment.

"I actually thought about it. It's funny," Perron said. "All the things we can think of in 2-3 seconds, it's pretty amazing, but I just kind of took a step to the middle and the D didn't really come my way. If he did, I probably just slide it over there to his stick to 'Buch' hoping that he scores, but it went in and it was a big goal for us and that was important."

The Blues kept the foot on the defensive front, blocking shots (17) and killing the Avalanche forecheck and puck possession. Colorado never really threatened to tie it or get within one after Perron scored, and former Avs forward Brandon Saad, who scored three goals for Colorado in the four-game sweep of the Blues last season, iced the game with an empty-net goal at 18:10 to make it 4-1.

"I think we played a connected hockey game," said Binnington, who is 4-1 with a 1.75 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in the playoffs. "We were all supporting each other and you know the depth we had today, that was good. We just trusted our game. We talked about just controlling the puck and tracking back hard and trying to out-number them all over the ice."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Brandon Saad (20) looks on after Avalanche goalie Darcy
Kuemper makes a save in front of teammate Bowen Byram Thursday.

Which the Blues did.

"From the get-go, it seemed like we got on our forecheck way more," Perron said. "We made them defend. That definitely will slow them down a little bit. chipping away at their bodies so that they can't get the speed they want. We did a good job in the first two periods and in the third, Binner held the lid for us. He had a good push and it was a good win."

And Berube pushed the right buttons again, making adjustments when necessary.

"Yeah, I was happy with it all," Berube said. 'I think that we got really good use out of everybody tonight. I thought 'Bozie' and 'Torp' gave us really good minutes. Barbashev gave us really good minutes. I mixed lines a little bit with only going 11, so you get some different looks here and there and different line combinations at times. But overall, I thought the 'Tommer' line was good tonight. 'Tommer' had a real good game, I thought, overall. Big goal by Kyrou. He was skating and attacking and he had a couple other good looks, and Saad, he's just Mr. Consistent for me."

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