Blues Push San Jose to The Brink

Apr 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm
click to enlarge Feeding frenzy time. 
Feeding frenzy time. 
You know, I really love that phrase. The Brink, I mean. On the brink or to the brink, I really like it. Although On the Brink sounds suspiciously like a movie from the 80s to me, maybe with Moira Kelly in it or something. Still, it's a cool word, and I don't think it's used nearly often enough. 

Did you know sharks can detect chemicals -- particularly those found in blood -- in dilution of around one part per 25 million? It's true. I read it on the internet. And there's no such thing as lying on the internet. But you know what? The exact concentration numbers aren't really important anyway, I suppose, in the big picture. What's important is that sharks can smell blood in the water crazy good, and you should probably remember that the next time you go to take a bath. (Bathtub sharks are a very real thing. Just like toilet snakes. Which I am still terrified of.) 

Out in Northern California, though, there's a certain reversal of script going on. The Sharks aren't the ones sensing blood in the water. They're the ones producing it. The Blues are now just one victory away from eliminating San Jose and moving on to the second round of the playoffs. There's plenty of blood in the water, and this time it's the guys wearing the Note doing the circling. 

The Blues beat the Sharks last night 2-1 despite San Jose playing what may very well have been their best game of the entire series. I'm serious. The Sharks didn't start quite as fast I expected them to, but they played most of the game looking every inch a team fighting to stay alive. The played big, they played tough, and they played hungry. They played clean, too; there were virtually no stupid penalties last night, no San Jose players taking ill-timed retaliation shots and drawing time in the box. It was one of the toughest performances I think I've ever seen from a Sharks team, who usually tend to be a little, um, finesse-y would be the nicest way to put it. 

And that is exactly why the Blues' victory last night was so exciting to see. The Sharks threw every ounce of toughness and grit they had at the Blues last night, and the Blues still beat them playing the exact same way. San Jose played the toughest, tightest game they could muster, and the Blues were still able to execute their gameplan and come away with the victory. 

At this point I'm not certain there's a team in the league capable of outplaying the Blues in their own tough, defensive-minded milieu. Actually, I take that back. I think the Nashville Predators could, and that's why I'm terrified of Nashville. The LA Kings were a defensive powerhouse this year as well, but that was largely due to the efforts of Jonathan Quick in goal. That's not to say I'm not worried about the Kings; any time you play a team with an elite goalie you have to be concerned. But I think the Blues' defense is significantly better than the Kings on the whole. Nashville, I'm not so sure. 

Last night, though, that amazingly stingy defense was the story once again, as the Blues kept the Sharks off the board completely until the waning moments of the game, when San Jose pulled their goalie and put on the full-out press. Brian Elliott was very good, making 24 of 25 saves, but it was full-team effort in shutting down the Sharks rather than the man in net standing on his head. 

The biggest stars of the game were, unsurprisingly, Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund. I say unsurprisingly because, for the most part, those two have been the best players on the ice for the Blues pretty much every single night in this series. Since taking a cheap shot up high from T.J. Galiardi in the second game, McDonald has played like a man on a mission, pissed off and running at double speed. Berglund, on the other hand, has been a monster from the moment the puck dropped in game one. 

Speaking of Berglund and McDonald, I have to say I really love watching David Perron play at the same time as those two. Far be it from me to tell Ken Hitchcock how to do his job, but I would honestly consider moving Perron to the second line and bumping Alex Steen back up to play with T.J. Oshie and David Backes. I know it seems counterintuitive to push perhaps your most talented offensive player toward fewer minutes, but there's just something about that combination of Berglund, McDonald and Perron I really like, even though Perron and McDonald both normally play on the left. They just seem to have great chemistry together. Then again, the playoffs are no time to be experimenting, so it's probably best no one listens to me. 

The Blues are just one win away from winning their first playoff series in a decade. They have an historically great defense and more than enough talent at the forward positions. This is not just a good team; it's a potentially great team. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

For now, the Sharks and Blues heading back to St. Louis on Saturday. The NHL's best home team will have a chance to close out the series in the friendly confines of the Scottrade Center, and take some revenge for the multiple heartbreaks San Jose has inflicted upon this franchise in the postseason. 

There is blood in the water. Go get 'em, Blues.