St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knew a collective effort was needed by his healthy players down the stretch on the way to qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth straight season.
The Blues overcame injuries to key players and were bolstered by right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and veterans David Backes, Paul Stastny and Kevin Shattenkirk. They received an infusion of energy from rookies Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson. The return of goaltender Brian Elliott to the lineup after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury also proved vital.
"I look at how many times we were right on the edge of 'Oh my God,' and to recover, I'm proud of those guys," Hitchcock said.
The Blues qualified for the 2016 playoffs with a 4-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.
With the amount of injuries St. Louis had this season, Hitchcock would like to believe there's a different mentality in and around the locker room these days. The Blues were eliminated in their Western Conference First Round series after finishing with more than 50 wins and 100 points the previous two seasons.
"There's tweaking and then there's adapting, and we adapted," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We really had to change the way we played and the way we approached things."
Here are five reasons the Blues clinched:
1. Tarasenko the terrific
The native of Yaroslavl, Russia, is the first player to have consecutive 30-goal seasons for the Blues since Brad Boyes (2007-09). This one comes after he signed an eight-year, $60 million contract on July 7, the richest deal in Blues history.
Tarasenko scored six of St. Louis' 18 goals in the playoffs last season.
"I think that's been the difference for us, why we have the record we've had this year," Hitchcock said. "It seems like every game is a playoff game, and you need your best players to be your best players. When the game's been on the line, [Tarasenko] has been outstanding."
Since Elliott was activated off injured reserve on March 19, he has consecutive shutouts against the Vancouver Canucks (twice) and San Jose Sharks. Elliott is the Blues' all-time leader with 25 shutouts. He's also on a career-high six-game road winning streak, during which he has a 1.33 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and three shutouts.
Video: VAN@STL: Elliott stones Higgins' break, snags rebound
When Elliott was injured, Jake Allen had a career-high six-game winning streak, including four straight road wins and a 2.50 GAA during that stretch to help the Blues remain within striking distance in the Central Division of the Western Conference. Allen has set NHL career highs in games played, wins, shutouts, shots against and save percentage.
"Our goaltenders that have been backbones of our team have been injured at different times," Backes said. "We've come out of it with our heads above water."
Hitchcock said he plans to use each goalie down the stretch in order to determine his starter for the playoffs.
3. Rookie resurgence
Fabbri became the third rookie in Blues history to score 15 goals in his first season, joining Patrik Berglund and Jim Campbell. The center has a team-best 19 points in 23 games since the All-Star break while playing a top-six role. Fabbri, a first-round pick (No. 21) in the 2014 NHL Draft, missed six games with an upper-body injury.
"There's a lot of good players in the League, but not many players that have quick sticks like [Fabbri] does," Hitchcock said. "For me, he's always going to be a point-producing player because when you have that quick a stick and that type of vision, you're always going to be a threat to score."
Parayko is the sixth rookie defenseman in Blues history to have 20 assists in his first season. Edmundson, a second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2011 NHL Draft, ranks in the top five among NHL rookie defensemen in hits.
4. Special teams
The Blues can point to their efficient power play and penalty kill as reasons for their success. The power play ranks sixth (21.3 percent) in the NHL and the penalty kill is third (84.8 percent). Tarasenko has an NHL career-high 12 power-play goals.
The Blues have the top power play at home since the All-Star break, scoring on 11 of 37 chances for a 29.7 percent efficiency at Scottrade Center. St. Louis ranks in the top five on the penalty kill at home.
5. Calm under pressure
St. Louis not only ranks among the top 10 teams in the League with 258 man-games lost to injury, but on six occasions has given up the game-tying goal with less than two minutes to play in regulation to send the game to overtime. However, the Blues have won four of those games.
St. Louis ranks second in the League with a .429 win percentage when trailing after one period, and is fifth (.192) when trailing after two periods.