The St. Louis Blues advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970 with a 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
The Blues are 12-7 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, also earning a six-game win against the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference First Round and a seven-game victory against the Dallas Stars in the second round. They will play the Boston Bruins in the Cup Final for the second time (1970) with Game 1 at TD Garden on Monday (7 p.m. CT; NBC, KMOX).
Here are 5 reasons the Blues advanced:
1. Physicality and forecheck
The Blues imposed their will on the Sharks, who left the series battered and bruised.
The Sharks played an elimination game without forwards Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl and defenseman Erik Karlsson, who was targeted by Blues forwards throughout the series each time he touched the puck,
Karlsson, who had lingering groin and leg issues for 27 of the Sharks' final 33 regular-season games, did not play the third period of Game 5 and never saw a shift in the series again. Hertl also missed the third period of Game 5 after he was inadvertently clipped by Blues center Ivan Barbashev. Pavelski departed in the third period of Game 5 after getting checked by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
The Blues were effective on the forecheck, totaling 208 hits (34.7 per game), and wanted to punish Sharks defensemen, particularly Brent Burns.
"I think whenever you're in a series that's as long as best-of-7, I think that's the plan," Blues center Tyler Bozak said. "You want to get in on the forecheck, you want to hit guys as much as you can, spend as much time in the offensive zone as possible and wear them down. They've got a couple 'D' that play a ton of minutes, so those are guys that we want to make play defense as much as possible and hit them every chance we get. As the series goes on, you hope you're wearing them out. Everyone is in such good shape and played all year. It's hard to wear guys down and every little thing can help for the later games in the series."
Video: Blues oust Sharks in six, advance to Cup Final
2. Fourth line contributions
The Blues tout their depth and the ability to roll four lines. Their fourth line is no exception.
The line of Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Barbashev scored in five straight games, combined for eight points (five goals, three assists) and was part of an effective forecheck.
"We just work hard every shift," Barbashev said. "We want to win, and we want to be effective out there.
"Every time we play physical, and every time we have a chance to get some O-zone time, it's momentum. I feel like it's momentum for everyone, every other line. I feel like we've been doing a really good job of this."
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3. Tarasenko heated up
Coaches always talk about best players needing to be the best players. Forward Vladimir Tarasenko provided offense in each game. He had eight points (three goals, five assists), including the game-winning goal in Game 6, and scored the Blues' first-ever penalty shot in the playoffs.
Tarasenko scored two goals in the Blues' six-game loss to the Sharks in the 2016 conference final. Each came in the final 10 minutes of a 5-2 defeat in Game 6.
"In this point of the year, we just keep playing tight, keep playing our game, keep playing our brand of hockey," Tarasenko said. "... We just get four wins and move on, so that's what we focus on now. I think that's part of the year where points and individual stuff, and everything else just go ... it doesn't really matter, we just thinking about wins and that's it."
Video: Berube, Pietrangelo after winning conference title
4. Power play comes through
The power play came alive as the series progressed, finishing 5-for-15 in Games 3-6 after going 0-for-6 in Games 1-2.
The Blues switched up some of their personnel, moving forwards Pat Maroon and Bozak to the top unit, forwards David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz to the second unit and defenseman Colton Parayko on the point.
"We kind of were stressing we've got to get more pucks to the net with traffic," Bozak said. "We were just kind of passing it around the outside a little bit too much."
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5. Binnington outduels Jones
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington allowed 13 goals the first three games of the series but two in the final three, including his first playoff shutout in Game 5.
Binnington outdueled San Jose goalie Martin Jones by going 3-0 with a 0.67 goals-against average and .974 save percentage in the final three games compared to Jones, who was 0-3 with a 3.72 GAA and .863 save percentage.
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