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Stanley Cup Final

Tarasenko closing in on dream of winning Stanley Cup with Blues

Needs four victories against Bruins to follow in footsteps of fellow countrymen

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Vladimir Tarasenko was recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left shoulder, so the St. Louis Blues forward wasn't paying close attention when Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov brought the Stanley Cup home to his native Russia last summer after winning it with the Washington Capitals.

But Tarasenko was happy to see them achieve their dream, particularly Orlov, who is one of his closest friends, and allowed himself for a moment to consider what it would like for him.

"I was really happy for [Orlov]," Tarasenko said during Stanley Cup Final Media Day at TD Garden on Sunday. "We were joking, 'Maybe next year we can do this.' So now we're here, and we have only one team to beat to get it."

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blues series coverage]

 

That team is the Boston Bruins, who will host the Blues in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). Few thought St. Louis would be here when it was in last place in the NHL on Jan. 3, but Tarasenko says he did.

"If say yes, would you believe?" he said. "Yeah, we were talking about it, I'm not going to lie, and I feel like our team (knows) more than what we used to know when we were in last place in the League. So as soon as guys get confidence in each other, confidence in themselves, the results come."

Tarasenko's season mirrored the Blues season in that he struggled through the end of 2018 before coming on strong beginning at the start of the calendar year. Tarasenko had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in the first 37 games, but St. Louis was 15-18-4.

The Blues went 30-10-5 over their final 45 regular-season games and Tarasenko had 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 39 games over that stretch (missing one game because he was ill and five with an upper-body injury). That included a 12-game point streak (11 goals, 11 assists) from Jan. 19-Feb. 17.

Video: Tarasenko discusses special teams, Blues' resolve

Preferring to focus on the team, the 27-year-old Tarasenko didn't want to discuss whether his shoulder surgery contributed to his slow start or the reasons for his turnaround.

"It's been a long year and I feel if you understand us, there's been a lot of emotions negative and positive and as soon as we can get team success, individual success is going to come too," Tarasenko said. "So, I think the biggest change was we started playing as a team and everybody get happy for each other, everybody plays for each other and then some other guys get some success. That's how it happens."

Blues center Brayden Schenn suggested that some of Tarasenko's and the team's early-season struggles were related to trying to find the right combinations after adding forwards Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon in the offseason.

"Guys had to find out where they fit in and then once you did find out where you fit in, you have to buy in," Schenn said. "And I think once guys did that, we started winning."

Tarasenko has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 19 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and has been hot of late, getting at least one point in each of the six games of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks (three goals, five assists).

"He's shooting the puck well," Schenn said. "He's obviously a shooter, but he's bringing other elements to his game. He's physical. He's playing hard in his own end. He's good on the puck. It's fun being his linemate right now."

Tarasenko has always been able to score goals in the playoffs; his 30 goals in 63 NHL postseason games are third most in Blues history behind Brett Hull (67) and Bernie Federko (35). His average of 0.48 goals per game is second highest in the League among active players who have played at least 50 playoff games behind Ovechkin (0.51).

When asked if this is the best he's played in the playoffs, Tarasenko replied, "I don't know. I'll let you guys decide."

He's focused on trying to get his hands on the Stanley Cup. After joking about it last summer, he's four wins away.

"That's what you play for," Tarasenko said. "You play for winning the trophies, and that's one of the trophies everyone wants to win. So basically all of your practices, all of your days when you wake up early and go to the rink, it's all because of this, this moment. So we just try to enjoy that as much as we can and get a win."

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