The St. Louis Blues entered the 2019-20 season as the reigning Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history. The organization and the fanbase had their sights set on becoming the first team to win consecutive Stanley Cups since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, and just the third team in the last 30 years to repeat (1997-98 Detroit Red Wings). This upcoming St Louis Blues postseason will be an exciting one.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will include a unique format. There will be 24 teams and a round-robin tournament among division winners (including the Blues). The round-robin tournament will determine the top four seeds in each conference. Once the NHL is able to return to action, it will jump right into the postseason. It can be argued that this Stanley Cup will be one of the hardest to win. The St. Louis Blues, however, have what it takes to repeat in this unique postseason.
Why the St. Louis Blues Can Repeat In A Unique Postseason
To win the Stanley Cup requires a talented and dedicated roster that supports one another. The Blues had that in 2019, and they have just about the same roster heading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pat Maroon and veteran defencemen Jay Bouwmeester are the most notable players who are not on the roster now. The remainder of the roster is still the same, and even the new players who have come in, Justin Faulk and Marco Scandella, have embraced their role with the team and have blended in well with the rest of the team. The team chemistry is there for another run at the Cup.
When the NHL paused the season, the Blues were in first place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. That is not shocking. The surprising part is that the Blues had gotten to that point without star forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko had been out since late October after getting surgery on his left shoulder.
Prior to the NHL pausing the season, the Blues had hopes that Tarasenko would be able to return for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs. There was concern, however, that Tarasenko would not be at 100%. Due to what will end up being four plus months off, Tarasenko should be healed and ready to play. Having Tarasenko back will significantly increase the Blues chances of repeating. Of active skaters, Tarasenko ranks 18 in playoff goals with 33. Tarasenko has always performed in the playoffs, even when the rest of the team did not. In the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tarasenko scored six goals in six games despite the Blues losing the series. A healthy Tarasenko is just what the Blues need.
The Pause Can Help
Captain Alex Pietrangelo shares a similar opinion that the pause can help the team. “‘We’re treating this as an offseason. We will have had eight, 10, 12 weeks to train, which is more than what we had last summer after playing as long as we did. For us, (the break) was pretty beneficial. It’s not easy to play as much hockey [as we did last year], especially a guy like David Perron who played two years in a row going to the Finals. I think mentally [it] is just as important because you take a break, recharge the mind, recharge the body and get that excitement to get back again. It’s nice we were able to take a break and get ready for this.’”
Experience With Adversity
While this pause is not a normal case of adversity, it is an unfamiliar situation that all playoff teams will need to find a way to work through. This is especially true considering they will be jumping right into the playoffs.
For the Blues, adversity is nothing new to them. They have dealt with many kinds of adversity. They were in last place in the league before going on their magical run to the Stanley Cup last season. There was the adversity of the missed hand-pass call in Game Three of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks. When most teams would have lost their composure, the Blues maintained themselves. The team insisted to reporters that they were shifting their focus to the next game. They responded by winning the final three games of the series, outscoring the Sharks 12-2 in that stretch.
In the Stanley Cup Final, the Blues had the adversity of having two players suspended during the series. After failing to win the series on home ice, the Blues traveled back to Boston and won Game Seven. People who were close to the team said that the team acted with such composure leading up to the game. Few thought that the team would lose. The players themselves were confident, as told by goalie Jake Allen, in an article in the Athletic by Jeremy Rutherford:
“‘The night before Game 7, we were in Boston at our hotel. In the playoffs, you’re stuck in a hotel both home and away, so you’re tight-knit; you’re doing a lot of things together. They always give us one room, like a ‘team suite’ where everyone can hang out together instead of 20 of us in the same hotel room. Well, we have a pretty loose group, a pretty relaxed group, and that night before Game 7 we were sitting there, drinking some wine, having some ice cream and playing some cards. We had a majority of the guys in there having a good time, and the next thing you know, it’s 10:30, 11 o’clock and we were like, ‘Oh shit, we have a game tomorrow — Game 7 — the biggest game of our lives.’”
‘“So we went back to our rooms, and once I got back to mine, I had the utmost confidence in the world that we were going to win. No one was overthinking the game. It was still the exact same game as every other playoff game and road game that we had during the year. We were having fun, we weren’t really talking about hockey, and when I got back to my room, it all sort of clicked. I just knew that we had the right mentality heading into that game. It’s interesting because most people think you’re in bed at 7 o’clock, not eating ice cream and having a couple of glasses of wine, getting a good night’s sleep and up bright and early. But that’s just the group that we had. It’s a cool picture to look back on.’”
Perhaps the biggest adversity the Blues faced was on February 12 of this year. Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench during a game as a result of a cardiac episode. At that moment, it was not just a case of an injured teammate. The team saw a friend whose life was possibly in danger. It was undoubtedly a scary time for the team. However, they did what they needed to do. They addressed the situation. The team were able to adjust their focus back to the game after it was apparent that Bouwmeester would be okay. The front office addressed the hole left by Boumeester’s absence by bringing in Marco Scandella. It had to be hard to refocus, though, given the nature of the situation. The team and the front office did and continued to play winning hockey.
The playoffs will be different this year, but it does not make winning the Stanley Cup any less impressive. The 2020 Stanley Cup Champions will have truly earned the distinction. If there is a team out there that has what it takes to win in an unusual postseason, it is the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.