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BenFred: 5 reasons the Blues finally broke through to the Stanley Cup finals Ben Frederickson

No, you weren't dreaming.

Your St. Louis Blues are four wins away from their first Stanley Cup, four wins away from that parade, four wins away from a curse cured.

Like the Sharks and the Stars and the Jets , it failed.

These Blues changed coaches, changed goalies, and, in front of a sold-out Enterprise Center crowd on a stormy day, changed perceptions of an organization that had been blocked from the Stanley Cup finals since 1


Hey buddy, they're still here. And there, crying in the hallway near the dressing room, was Kelly Chase, the man who first read that blues rallying cry. And there was little Laila, the Blues' superhero, interviewing Alexander Steen. And there was Bobby Plager in his playoff beard, celebrating for two.

A crowd of 18,684 assembled beneath a scary sky, and that's not counting the mass at Ballpark Village. The hockey goods stirred over our downtown. Tornado sirens sounded. Lake? Those who could not be watched from their basements – if their reception didn't cut out. The storm calmed. The sirens stopped. Blues legends Chris Pronger, Brett Hull and a long list of teary-eyed, well-oiled albums tried to make sense of a 5-1 Blues win. Current Cardinals Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong cheered like Average Joes. Old friends Chris Long and David Freese popped up on the big screen, stirring roars. It was a movie in real life, and it just now reached the best part.

"We're not done, boys," Blues coach Craig Berube told his man.

"There is still one more opponent to beat," Vladimir Tarasenko said.

"The big prize is still ahead of us," added general manager Doug Armstrong.

Boston beckons. The focus had shifted to the Bruins before last call at Enterprise Center. Here's why the Blues are bound for Beantown. . .

first Perfectly-Placed Physicality

 Blues Face Sharks in Game 3

Blues' David Perron checks San Jose's Erik Karlsson into the glass during Game 3. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

to Game 1 of these Western Conference Finals, when the Sharks won and almost sneered at the Blues' attempt to smear them in the loss. High-scoring San Jose defense man Erik Karlsson, a specific target of the Blues due to his recent missed time with groin and leg injuries, said in a post-game press that the Blues seemed more interested in physicality than hockey. Some media members ran with the story. The blues were too worried about being too physical! No, they're not. While they made a point to shift their focus to hits and puck possession instead of just hits, the blues never really scaled back their intention of making San Jose physically uncomfortable.

It worked. The Sharks played Tuesday's Game 6 without Karlsson, Tomas Hertl and captain Joe Pavelski. All had been knocked out of the game because of hits delivered by the Blues, because of injuries complicated from hits delivered by the Blues. The Blues out-hit the Sharks 208-182 through six games. And through the first four games, the Blues out-hit the Sharks 148-99. Alex Pietrangelo's Game 5 hit on Pavelski knocked him out of the series. Ivan Barbashev's Game 5 hit on Hertl knocked him out of the series. The blues were ruthless towards Karlsson, who went from the physicality to the grimacing on the bench in Game 5, and absent entirely in Game 6. Sammy Blais had a series-high 31 hits. She was smashing someone every time you blinked. The Sharks broke down as the series aged. It was too late at the time they started hitting.

"I think the two hardest, heaviest teams are in the final," San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said Tuesday. “Everybody talks about skill and speed, and there's room for all these small players, but I don't think it's an accident. There's no space. They're heavy. They're hard. They're organized. ”

2. Dynamic depth

 Blues look to redeem in game 4

Blues center Oskar Sundqvist clears the puck during Game 4. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@postdispatch.com

Asked Tuesday night to recall his trade deadline decision to make no major moves, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong explained his reasons for sitting tight.

"I didn't want to displace any of our nine," Armstrong said. “We believed in what (Oskar) Sundqvist was doing. We believed in (Ivan) Barbashev. So it just felt like this group had something going on. We felt they had earned the right to see how far they could take it. ”

In this series, the Blues got goals from 12 different players. Twelve! Jaden Schwartz, who had the worst regular season of his career, paced the group with four. Three Blues – Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko – each had three. Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist chipped in two a piece. Then six others came up with one, from Robert Bortuzzo's game-winning backhand, to Brayden Schenn's Game 6 drought buster. The Blues 'third and fourth lines remain game changers, and the fourth line's bottling up of the Sharks' top line was a major factor. A whopping 17 Blues scored a point in this series

Zoom out, and the depth is even more dramatic. Eighteen Blues have at least one postseason goal. Twenty Blues have at least one postseason point. Twelve Blues have multiple postseason goals. Seventeen Blues have multiple postseason points.

Another example: Sundqvkist, a fourth-liner, leads all Blues with a postseason plus-minus of plus-7. Just don't call him a fourth-liner. The Blues have begun to refuse to label their lines, because each has such an important role. It would sound like it actually was.

"We play all four lines," Tarasenko said Tuesday. “It's been every game. Team wins. Everybody does their job really well. There's no one, two, three, four. It's just our team. We get four wins, we move on, and that's what matters. ”

3. Tarasenko Stepped Up

 Blues and Sharks off in third round

Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko passes during Game 1 against the Sharks. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

When Tarasenko's quiet Game 1 asked about his postseason performance, both Berube and his star player had decisions to make. Berube could stick up for his player, or challenge him publicly. And Tarasenko had to decide how he would respond. Berube did a bit of both, praising Tarasenko's ability but also asking him for more. The coach played it perfectly. So did Tarasenko, who ratcheted up his game, was his play away from the puck, and as a result broke through his scoreless spell.

After the Sharks limited one shot in Game 1, he had more than three shots per game. game about the following five games. He scored from scoring one goal in his last eight postseason games to scoring three goals and dishing four assists over the next five games. He was a plus-3 player after Berube challenged him. Tarasenko's 16 hits in the series tied for fourth among Blues players. When No. 91 is active and shooting, good things happen for the Blues. His coach pressed the right button, but the server was credited for rising to the occasion and silencing the conversation about his impact in big games.

4. Binnington is a cold-blooded closer

 Blues and sharks go to the game 6 of the semifinals

Goalie Jordan Binnington leads the blues onto the ice before Tuesday's Game 6 at Enterprise Center. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

For the third time in many postseason series, Blues rookie, goalie Jordan Binnington refused to allow more than two goals in any of the series' final three games. He now has a 7-2 record through the final three games of each round. He has stopped 235 of the 247 shots he's faced in those games. During the Blues wins against the Sharks in Game 4, 5 and 6, Binnington stopped 75 or 77 shots.

"He's a real good goalie," Sharks forward Joe Thornton said.

"You've got to realize what a great goaltender means to a hockey team, "Bob Plager said Tuesday. "Go back to our first years. Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante. Not bad. We went to three Stanley Cups. We had a good bunch of guys, but we had great goaltending. Our goaltenders, they gave us a chance to be in every When you are not playing good, they gave us a chance to start playing good.This guy has done the same thing. we scored the goals. Our goalie (Binnington) gave us a chance to do that. "

5. Hand pass? Blues moved past it

 Blues and sharks off in game 3 of the semifinals

Blues coach Craig Berube and players wait for a decision from the officials while the crowd watches a replay of Sharks' Timo Meier making a hand pass that resulted in the Game 3 winning goal. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

It could have broken them

Not long ago, something like the on-ice officials missing Timo Meier's illegal hand pass before the Sharks' game winning overtime goal in Game 3 could have derailed the Blues. But Berube's bunch has developed a habit of sidestepping potholes instead of wallowing in them. The sharks were blessed with lots of luck during their run, got defensive after the non-call. The Blues simply shrugged it off and turned into a steamroller. They were 3-0 after the hand pass. They outscored the Sharks 12-2 after the missed call.

"They found that hard character," Armstrong said.

It is this quality, a remarkable ability to turn the page, that has the blues headed for Boston with room to improve an already amazing comeback story.

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