The St. Louis Blues will play in the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016 and will play the San Jose Sharks after a seven-game win against the Dallas Stars in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Blues, who defeated the Winnipeg Jets in a six-game first round, defeated the Stars 2-1 in double-overtime in Game 7 when St. Louis-born forward Pat Maroon scored the winning goal. They rallied from down 3-2 in a best-of-7 series for the first time since 1999, when they defeated the Phoenix Coyotes in the conference quarterfinal in seven games.
[RELATED: Full Blues vs. Stars series coverage]
Here are 5 reasons the Blues advanced:
1. Grind game
When the Blues were chipping pucks in, going on the forecheck, cycling pucks in the offensive zone and not allowing the Stars to transition plays out of their zone with speed, St. Louis had success and was able to dictate play.
The Blues are built to grind and forecheck their opponent and not make mistakes with the puck. Dallas is more of a speed team that seemed to lose its momentum as the series progressed.
In the games the Stars won, they had multiple odd-man rushes and thrived off St. Louis turnovers. When the Blues won, puck possession was paramount.
"Just the work ethic and the reloading, back pressure from the forwards and the defense being tight," St. Louis coach Craig Berube said. "I thought we did a great job of just not giving them very much and forcing turnovers and getting pucks back in the offensive zone. The guys did a great job of quick line changes, getting new lines out there, all of that. There's not much coaching going on at that point. Get the guys out there and let them play."
2. Hometown hero's big goals
Maroon scored two goals in the series but they were two of the biggest goals scored.
Aside from scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 7, Maroon also scored the winning goal with 1:38 remaining in the third period of a 4-3 win in Game 3. He combined with linemates Robert Thomas and Tyler Bozak for nine points in the series (four goals, five assists).
"I've got to give credit to my linemates first," Maroon said. "They kind of re-amped my season and got me to where I needed to be and got me the confidence I needed.
"This is every kid's dream, and to score [in Game 7] is very special, especially with my whole family in the stands. We deserved that win. It hasn't really all hit me. What a roller-coaster. It's emotional for sure. Probably the biggest goal I've scored in my career."
Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Maroon's 2OT goal sends Blues to WCF
3. 'Winnington' continues to shine
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington continues to defy the odds and held the Stars to two goals or fewer in four of the seven games; he allowed a total of four goals in Games 5-7.
"There were a couple moments where you just took a second and realized where you were," Binnington said. "It's pretty special. I'm happy to be part of it and I'm happy we got the win in front of the home crowd here."
Binnington is 8-5 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 13 playoff games.
"Big time, big time saves, at key moments," Berube said. "That's a credit to him."
Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Binnington stops Benn's wraparound bid
4. Rookies rise up
Berube trusted the first-year players with important minutes, and they rewarded his trust with big plays.
Thomas had four points (one goal, three assists) in the series, including an assist on each goal in Game 7, and when forward Sammy Blais, who injured his ankle March 12, made his playoff debut in Game 6, he rewarded the Blues with a third-period goal in a 4-1 win.
"We like Sammy a lot," Berube said. "He was playing really well before he got injured and then playoffs started. I think he was pretty much ready to go but hadn't played. He's got size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), he's physical and he's got good ability with the puck.
"[Thomas] had a really good [Game 7]. From the get-go, he had the puck and he was doing some real good stuff with it. They ended up getting two goals from just him doing things down low with the puck, the whole line."
5. Defense gets offensive
The Blues relied on their defensemen to provide offense in the regular season and that carried into this series.
St. Louis defensemen combined for 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in the series, compared to seven points (three goals, four assists) for Stars defensemen.
Alex Pietrangelo (two goals, three assists) and Colton Parayko (one goal, four assists) led Blues defensemen with five points each.
"We read off each other well and know when to jump into the play and when not to," Pietrangelo said. "We communicate well and never leave our [defense] partners in a bad spot on the ice. That communication is always important, and we have the trust in each other to make the right reads."