Friends – it’s been far too long since we’ve all gotten together. I hope to not make this a trend, but instead get the ball rolling on a promise I made long ago. My hope for this new segment that I’m calling Freezing Cold Takes is to continue to bring the #HotTakes that you’ve grown accustomed to about sandwiches and extend them into the realm of sports. (St. Louis sports to be specific).
Thank you as always for your continued support. Stay tuned for more sports opinion and sandwich reviews coming soon!
Blues and Stars Align Once Again
Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins tonight, and the Blues will host the Dallas Stars in Game 1 at Enterprise Center following the conclusion of Game 1 between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins in an Eastern Conference showdown.
This will be the 14th meeting of the Blues and Stars franchises in the playoffs since the two were created in the 1967 NHL Expansion. One interesting note, the past three times the Blues have reached the Conference Final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues had defeated the Stars at some point in the postseason. Most recently, the Blues eliminated the Stars in 7 games in the Second Round of the 2015-16 Playoffs before losing to the Sharks in 6 games; before that, the Note swept the Stars in the Conference Semifinals (The old-school name for the Second Round) of the 2000-01 playoffs before falling to the Avalanche in 5 games; and in the 1985-86 Playoffs the Blues defeated the Minnesota North Stars 3-2 in a best-of-five series in the Division Semifinals (An even older-school name for the First Round) before eventually falling to the Flames in 7 games in the Conference Finals.
None of that will matter when the puck drops at approximately 8:50 tonight, of course. The Stars won 11 of their last 18 games down the stretch to secure a Wild Card spot with 93 points in a brutal Central Division. They then went on to defeat the Division champion Nashville Predators in 6 games, finishing it off with a 3-2 Overtime thriller in Dallas last Monday night.
The Blues, of course, have taken a roller coaster ride of their own to end the season. We all have heard the soundbite by now – on January 3rd the Blues were 31st overall in the NHL with 34 points, but managed to go on a tear through the later half of the season which included a franchise-best 11 game winning streak from Jan. 23 – Feb. 19, an overall record of 12-1-1 in the month of February, and to top it off, won 8 of their last 10 to finish with 99 points and clinch a matchup with the Winnipeg Jets in the First Round of the Cup Playoffs. The Blues downed the Jets in six games, finishing off the series thanks to a Jaden Schwartz hat trick in Game 6 in a 3-2 win at Enterprise.
Berube Provides Identity to Club at Crucial Time
Of all the improbable characters to lead the charge of the Blues’ turnaround, perhaps none is more surprising than Interim Head Coach Craig Berube. (You can call him “Chief”). The veteran of over 1,000 career NHL games, Berube joined the Blues as an assistant after a stint as Head Coach of the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. He took the reins back in November after the Blues parted ways with then Head Coach Mike Yeo after a disappointing start to the season and seemingly mounting frustration from the locker room.
The transition from November to December revealed a team that once appeared to be packing it up for the season to one that, if nothing else, had a little bit of pride left to play for. As typical of coaching changes in several major sports, the players in the locker room seemed to use the beginning of the Craig Berube era as a wake-up call to save a season that appeared to be lost.
But it was a hard-fought 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on December 31st that seemed to truly be the turning point to set up the remarkable 30-10-5 run to end the year. Despite taking the ‘L’, the team appeared to be playing with more heart than in earlier months under Yeo. The Blues blasted 40 shots on goal, and only allowed 23 to be fired at Jake Allen. The defense seemed to be more composed, less panicked, and the team as a whole looked to be playing at a much more competitive level.
Berube earned a reputation during his playing days as a an enforcer – racking up over 3,000 penalty minutes in 1,054 career games. And his aggressive style as a player seemed to translate as a coach. Following the Rangers loss on New Year’s Eve, the Blues began playing a much harder, north-south style of hockey. As referenced during Blues radio and television broadcasts, Berube is said to stress the importance of winning one on one battles and “be aggressive in all three zones”. By placing a premium on being a heavy forechecking team, the Blues seemed to have found their identify in the back half of the season and into the postseason.
The Legend of Jordan Binnington
There’s not a whole lot that can be said about 25-year old Jordan Binnington that hasn’t already been addressed. The Blues’ new-found net-minder has been nothing short of spectacular over his 30 regular season starts and 6 playoff starts. But for all of you stats guys and girls out there, let’s do a quick rundown:
24-5-1 Regular Season Record
Winning Percentage 80%
Yes, his performance on the ice has been good enough to launch him into the discussion for the Calder Trophy. It’s been good enough for him to be dubbed the NHL First Star of the Week on February 11th after putting up just a silly stat line of 3-0-0 record / 1.31 GAA / .954 save percentage. But I am of the opinion that it’s his quirky, quiet but confident, “I-don’t-give-a-shit-I’ll-do-it-myself” attitude both on and off the ice that has propelled the team to get to the point they’re at now. Maybe I’m a little caught up in the fantasy here, but Binner appears to play with a confidence and an edge that Blues fans haven’t exactly been accustomed to seeing in the last – eh – 20 or so years. Now I’m not in the business of ripping Jake Allen, but for what it’s worth this hockey team has played very, very well with number 50 starting in net.
Binnington’s confidence and goal-stopping ability has built him into a bit of a folk hero in the minds of Blues fans.
His story of AHL afterthought to NHL elite is one of legend.
What will the next chapter of the story reveal?