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Blues bolstered by Berube, Binnington on way to playoff berth

Coaching switch, rookie goalie helped propel St. Louis back to postseason

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The St. Louis Blues are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons, clinching a berth when the Arizona Coyotes lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on Friday.

The Blues (41-28-8), who did not qualify for the playoffs last season after doing so in each of the previous six, are third in the Central Division with 90 points, four behind the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators, who are tied for the division lead. St. Louis and Winnipeg each has a game in hand on Nashville.

Here are five reasons why the Blues clinched a playoff berth:

 

1. Coaching change

It's not easy for a new coach to come in more than a month after a season begins; Craig Berube faced that situation when he was hired as coach after the Blues fired Mike Yeo on Nov. 19. But Berube, who took over when the Blues were 7-9-3, has helped them turn around their fortunes; they're 34-19-5 since.

It took a little time, but Berube got the Blues playing as a cohesive unit. They're strong defensively, allowing 208 goals in 77 games (sixth in the NHL). Their penalty kill (81.7 percent) is eighth in the League. Berube also knew the potential of goalie Jordan Binnington, who played for Berube with Chicago of the American Hockey League in 2016-17. 

There have been seven coaching changes in the NHL this season, but Berube is the only such hire whose team is going to the playoffs. Considering what he has accomplished, it won't be surprising if Berube is part of the discussion for the Jack Adams Award for best coach in the NHL.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blues clinch a playoff spot

 

2. Binnington's emergence

The Blues recalled the 25-year-old on Jan. 5, and it ended up being a pivotal move; Binnington is 21-5-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. When the Blues won 11 straight games from Jan. 23-Feb. 19, Binnington won nine of them, a Blues rookie record. He also had four shutouts during that streak.

Binnington was named NHL rookie of the month for February, when he went 10-1-0 with a 1.44 GAA and .945 save percentage. He is the ninth rookie goalie in League history with 10 wins in a calendar month and the first since Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings in March 2010 (12-2-1). 

Greg Redquest, goaltending coach for the Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League, isn't surprised to see what Binnington has done.

"He's waited a little while to get there, come into his own," said Redquest, who coached Binnington with Owen Sound from 2009-13. "He's always been a good goalie. With me, he was an outstanding goalie, always willing to listen, always respectful. You knew he was going to get to the NHL. It was just a matter of time."

Video: TBL@STL: Binnington fully extends to stone Johnson

 

3. Critical winning streak

On Jan. 23, the Blues were 21-22-5, three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. That day, they defeated the Anaheim Ducks 5-1 to start a St. Louis record 11-game winning streak. When they wrapped up that streak with a 3-2 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 19, the Blues were 32-22-5 and third in the Central.

"It's always good, especially after the way we started this year, so it's a good push for us," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said after the win against the Maple Leafs. "We've come a long way."

 

4. O'Reilly out front

Ryan O'Reilly has given St. Louis improved depth at center and been effective on special teams. Acquired by the Blues in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1 for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, O'Reilly was one of the most consistent Blues players from the start.

O'Reilly leads St. Louis with 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists) and 20 power-play points (five goals, 15 assists).

Video: VGK@STL: O'Reilly scores off stretch pass

 

5. Tarasenko's big move

When Vladimir Tarasenko was at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago in September, the forward said he was disappointed with how he played in 2017-18 and wanted to be a bigger contributor this season. 

Tarasenko didn't start off well, but when Blues began to improve, so did he, powered by a 12-game point streak from Jan. 19-Feb. 17, when he had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists). Tarasenko is second on St. Louis with 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists), second with 19 power-play points and first with 11 power-play goals. 

Tarasenko, who missed five games with an upper-body injury this month, has scored at least 30 goals for the fifth consecutive season.

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