The team that sat dead last in the NHL when the calendar flipped to 2019 is now one win away from the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.
That kind of turnaround sounds like a cheesy movie of the week, but it’s the scenario before the St. Louis Blues after they blasted the host San Jose Sharks 5-0 Sunday afternoon to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
“We’re close,” Blues forward Patrick Maroon told reporters. “We’re very close right now. I think the guys know that. It’s in the back of their heads, but we know that that’s a good hockey team over there, too, and they’re not going to give up.”
The Blues will look to close out the best-of-seven series Tuesday at home when they host Game 6. The winner of the series will face the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
Coincidentally, the last time the Blues reached the championship round, they lost to the Bruins — a result forever framed by the famous image of Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the Cup-winning goal. St. Louis made the Cup final in each of its first three seasons but hasn’t returned since.
“It’s gonna be a lot of emotion and it’s important our players keep it in check,” Blues head coach Craig Berube said. “Our players have done a pretty good job of … focusing. I don’t expect anything different. It’s important at the start of the game you’re simple and direct. Keep your emotions in check and not let them get out of control.”
Berube’s charges moved ahead in the series with their most dominating performance of the playoffs. Jaden Schwartz recorded a hat trick and goalie Jordan Binnington made 21 saves for his first career playoff shutout as the Blues claimed their seventh win in nine road tilts this spring.
“If you saw the game, you saw how good everyone on the team played,” Binnington told Sportsnet after the game. “Everyone was outstanding, making the right decisions, playing hard and playing disciplined. That’s a good team win.”
And a costly one for the Sharks. Not only did they suffer a defeat, but the Sharks suffered through a war of attrition in what may be their final home game of the season. Defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Tomas Hertl didn’t play in the third period, while captain Joe Pavelski left early in the final frame after taking a hard check.
Karlsson, who appeared to aggravate a groin injury that limited him during the regular season, looked nothing like himself on the game’s first goal. His poor giveaway resulted in Oskar Sundqvist’s game-opening goal before the six-minute mark. From there, it went to downright ugly for the hosts as the Blues took complete control.
Schwartz’s trio of goals gives him 12 in the playoffs, one more than he collected through the regular season, while Vladimir Tarasenko netted a penalty shot goal in a three-point game. Tarasenko has collected at least one point in every game this series.
Now, the Sharks must find a way to recover and win on the road to force a seventh game at home, which would be Thursday.
“We’ve been here before. We had to go and win in Vegas to get to a Game 7,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose team has been outscored 7-1 in the last two games. “You’re never comfortable when your back’s against the wall like that, but we’ve been there before and found away. We’re confident we can do that again.”
Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped 35 shots in the loss.
–Field Level Media