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Second Round

Blues appreciate journey to playoff success

Await second-round opponent after sitting last in NHL standings Jan. 2

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues have a few days before the Western Conference Second Round begins to reflect on the journey it took for them to get there.

The Blues eliminated the Winnipeg Jets with a 3-2 win in Game 6 of the first round on Saturday.

When the Blues assembled their roster last summer, they thought they added pieces through free agency (forwards David Perron and Tyler Bozak) and trades (forward Ryan O'Reilly) that not only would put them back in playoff contention but compete for the Stanley Cup.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: St. Louis advances to Second Round

Things initially didn't go according to plan. The Blues started 7-8-3 and fired coach Mike Yeo on Nov. 19. Craig Berube was named replacement, but the Blues were 15-18-4 on Jan. 2, last in the NHL with 34 points. The odds of climbing into Stanley Cup Playoff contention were not good.

"I guess within this locker room we had a lot of tough conversations and honest conversations about what we needed to do to get better," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We still had belief in this room, as hard as it was for some people to believe. We felt like we still had a chance and we just kept pushing. That's what we did in this series. We didn't play the way we wanted to in Games 3 and 4 here, but we just kept pushing, looked hard in the mirror."

It took time, but in the process of improving, Berube's philosophies were having a positive effect. There also was the emergence of goalie Jordan Binnington, who started the season fourth on the organizational depth chart behind Jake Allen, Chad Johnson and Ville Husso. He was called up from San Antonio of the American Hockey League for the second time Jan. 5, made his first NHL start Jan. 7, and went 24-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and five shutouts in his final 30 games.

Video: Binnington makes 29 saves to help Blues stun Jets

The Blues went a NHL-best 30-10-5 after Jan. 1, including a team record 11-game winning streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19. They finished 45-28-9, third in the Central Division.

"There was a lot of adversity there," said Binnington, who had a 2.63 GAA and .908 save percentage in six games against the Jets. "It was fun and exciting for me. This team has been great all year that I've been here. We're excited. We've been great and things are always more fun when you're winning. We've been enjoying it and we're a resilient group."

In defeating the Jets, the Blues became the first NHL team in the expansion era (1967-68) to win a playoff series after ranking last in the NHL standings at any point after New Year's Day (minimum 20 games played).

"I'm proud of the guys in this room, and I really do mean that," Pietrangelo said. "There's a lot of tough times you go throughout a year, a lot of ups and a lot of downs, and all the way through this group, I really am proud."

Berube's tough-love approach got the attention of the players, and his communication level resonated.

"They're a relentless bunch," Berube said. "They don't quit. They just keep going. They're a tight group in there. They really play for each other. We talk about working and playing for each other on the ice all the time, and that's what they do.

"We all have a goal in mind. We got through one part of it basically. We wanted to get in the playoffs, which we did. We ended up beating a real good hockey team over there, Winnipeg Jets, and now we're moving on to the next opponent. And that's where we're at right now."


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