A few weeks ago, I was actively encouraging the Blues to semi-tank, in hopes of obtaining a more favorable playoff matchup than Nashville. Well, mission over-accomplished!
This whole President's Trophy, No.1 seed, home-ice-throughout is just mind-boggling. I don't pretend to understand how the Blues keep winning, and are about to set some sort of goal-prevention record, except that I'm sure it has something to do with Alex Pietrangelo. Instead of Nashville, the Blues will get to face one of the West's lesser lights, such as Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose or Los Angeles. Of that group, only the Kings give me any sort of pause, entirely due to Jonathan Quick.
With Alex Steen and (hopefully soon, even though I begged him to retire--don't ever follow my advice, kids) Andy McDonald returning, the Blues have an embarrassment of forward riches. You've got to be salivating over 10-42-74, 20-21-57, 15-44-25, and 17-12-9. (If fifth lines were allowed, 26-32-75 is pretty serviceable.) It's likely that none of them will have scored 60 points by the time the playoffs roll around, but that's just wave after brutal wave of guys who can score AND check.
McDonald's beneicial presence on the power play is obvious, but in my mind the team's offense gets a scary extra gear when Patrik Berglund is playing with heart and determination--something which has been lacking so much throughout his frustrating career, but which has shown signs of appearing on a mostly-regular basis over the last six to eight weeks. I don't think he has really understood how talented he is.
On D, Kris Russell is healthy; is it too much to ask for Roman Polak, too? I'm not 100 percent sold on Kent Huskins, but he hasn't done anything alarming. Pairs of 27-5, 22-6, and 28-4, even without the big Czech, are nice to have. It's a Ken Hitchcock mantra, that this group is extremely well suited to carry out, to exit the defensive zone as quickly as possible. It seems simple, because it is, but: puck possession is the most effective defense possible.
I don't envy Hitchcock's decision in goal...do you go with the guy who has pitched shutouts in a quarter of his starts, or the guy who has been playing the bulk of the recent games with an unmistakable swagger? My advice (which, again, it is unwise to follow) would be to not choose, and to play both of them. I can't imagine that the team feels less confident in front of one than the other. They've both earned it.
All in all, it adds up to a strange feeling. One I've really had to dig deep to recall. Genuine Blues Playoff Hockey Excitement.