The story is known around the league. A team left for dead at the halfway point by bloggers, journalists, and insiders alike. A team depleted by injuries mid way through their rebuild. Fans are talking Tavares vs. Hedman and if the Western Conference cellar dwellers will play as bad as the East to get a shot at the Canadian Sniper or the Swedish Pronger.
Enter the Manny Legace Meltdown, Chris Mason ascension, and the Monday Matinee Miracle in Beantown. Some how, some way this Blues teams finds a way to climb from 15th to 6th place. So when an inexperienced Blues team beats Colorado to draw the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1, the bloggers, journalists, and insiders alike write off the Blues. Blues fans know better. This team wasn't just happy to eek in, they were hungry and eager to keep moving on.
The Blues were the ultimate "Rudy" team. The Blues were hardworking, students of the game, and every player willing to step up his game to help his teammates. Could the feel good story of the year who did everything right in the second half beat the Montreal Monster and the Twins? Blues fans were confident they would get close and see what fate held.
What happened between April 15th and April 21st was not expected.
Now to be fair, these were not blowouts. Even the 3-0 game was not out of hand. These games were all close checking, hard hitting, down to the wire games. This might be the "closest" sweep of a series in the NHL in a very long time. I agree with Peter Tessier when he says that the Cancucks looked dominate in only about four periods in the series. From Game 2 on, the play was pretty balanced.
The series ultimately boiled down to missed opportunities and hot goalies.
To end the regular season the Blues finished with 8th Ranked power play (20.5%) and the 3rd Ranked penalty kill (83.8%). This was the Blues secret weapon, their kryptonite that would beat back the Canucks superior even strength play. If the Blues were to have a real shot at taking Vancouver over seven games, the special teams had to be in top form. In the four games the Blues power play clicked at a 4.2% clip and the penalty kill played at a 77.8% kill rate. With both sets of special teams units far from special and were no secret weapon. Perhaps the largest miss opportunity was the power play converting once out of 24 attempts. For the sake of argument let's convert the Blues Playoff power play chances at their regular season rate. The Blues had 24 chances at a 20.5% clip, which would have turned in to 4.92 additional goals (rounded to 5). How much of a difference would have 5 goals made? A lot since the series differential was 5 for to 11 against (or a minus 6 for the Blues).
From novice casual fans to the face painting diehards, we all know that the goalie is a teams best penalty killer. The missed opportunities above ended up as missed opportunities because of the play of Roberto Luongo. As frustrating as it was to watch, Luongo really did play very well in every game. In games 3 and 4 he seemed beatable, but came up with the big saves when needed.
On the other end of the ice was Chris Mason. Cast out from Nashville in the offseason, Mason was brought in to challenge Manny Legace and give the Blues a capable back up. The Meltdown that was Manny Legace is well documented, what came out of said breakdown was Mason's amazing effort that carried in to the Playoffs. Mason was as good as could be expected. He made big save after big save that was required of him. There was the occasional "softy" let in, however how much of an impact would those "softies" had if the power play was better than 4%?
For those who are statistically inclined, here is a break down of each game in the series. Combining Mason’s and Luongo's stats.
Game | Total SOG | Total Saves | Combined Save %
1 - 57 - 54 - .947
2 - 56 - 54 - .964
3 - 52 - 47 - .904
4 - 85 - 80 - .941
TOTAL: 250 - 235 - .940
* SOG Differential - 131 (Blues) to 121 (Canucks) - +10 Blues for series, 2.5 SOG a game.
The two goalies combined to stop 94% of all shots in the series. With the shot differential less than 3 shots a game, it shows how even this series really was. Save for the execution of the Canucks compared to the execution of the Blues.
The Canucks are moving on, resting till Round 2. The Blues are moving on to front office meetings on pro scouting, draft scouting, and making player personnel decisions. While some fans see this four game sweep as a negative, I would disagree. This series (and the second half run) provided invaluable experience for Backes, Boyes, Oshie, Perron, Berlgund, McClement, Polak and others that will make up the core of this team long-term.
Thank you St. Louis Blues for an amazing season. Take your beatings, move on and get better.