How much have the Blues changed since 2012, the last time these two foes squared off in the playoffs?
At the time it was a huge for the Blues franchise as it was their first series victory in 10 years. Since, St. Louis has maintained much of their core en route to their consistent regular-season success, but lost a few key pieces in the process. Here are the five most notable roster and team identity changes/similarities for the BlueNotes since team teal last met them in the playoffs.
1. T.J. Oshie Traded to Washington in 2015
Other than being an American hero for his shootout efforts in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Oshie was a consistent 50-60 point scorer for half a decade in St. Louis. He was, and still is, a very good overall player and top-six forward who was one of the few guys that gave them a playmaking ability in 2012. He tallied nine points in 30 playoff games as a Blue and notched three assists against the Sharks in 2012.
2. Huge Increase in Defensive Depth
Nashville may have had the best group of top-four D-men this year, but one could make a strong case that St. Louis has had the deepest entire group when healthy, especially in the playoffs. At the top is Alex Pietrangelo, a guy who doesn’t get the recognition that Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson does, but seems to do everything right and is a top-10 defenseman in the league. Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester both were Olympians in 2014.
Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk resided in the Gateway City in 2012, but new to the core since 2012 – along with Bouwmeester – are Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson. Parayko has a Shea Weber-esque slap-shot who is built like Victor Hedman at 6’6 and 226 lbs. The rookie had 33 points this season and a plus-28 rating in the regular season, and has been a force in the playoffs with five points and 31 shots on goal in 14 games. Edmundson is another rookie whose large, 6’4 frame and defensive-defenseman mindset makes him look like a younger version of Bouwmeester, and Gunnarsson is a fine member of a team’s third-pairing.
3. Still Have Elite Goaltending
In 2012, the goaltending duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott made a one-two punch for the record books, combining for an NHL record 15 shutouts. Halak had a regular season GAA of 1.97 and Elliott held an unfathomable 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage. They crashed down to Earth a bit in the playoffs, but still got solid goaltending in the playoffs. Elliott started eight of nine games, allowing 2.37 goals per game, and Halak stopped 44 of 46 shots that came his way.
Halak left town in 2014, but Elliott remains the Blues starter and has been fantastic this year and in the playoffs. He led the league in save percentage in the regular season (.930) and was top five in GAA (2.07). He has maintained his strong play through April and into May, posting a .929 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in the postseason. If the Blues were to win the Cup, he would most likely make a strong case for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
4. Emergence Of The ‘S-T-L’ Line
Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera compile the Blues’ top-line, and has helped give the Notes something they lacked a bit in 2012 – elite snipers and playmakers. The three have combined for 30 playoff points, and Schwartz returning from an injury he suffered in the regular season is a big reason the Blues are still alive.
Schwartz played only 33 games in the regular season – tallying 22 points – but most importantly, the Blues were 24-9-0 when he was in the lineup. Lehtera didn’t come to North America until he was 26 years-old in 2014 after being drafted by the Blues in 2008, but he has a been a good fit in St. Louis.
He makes plays for others, has great speed and a plus-33 rating in his two regular seasons in the NHL. The third member of that line, one of the most entertaining players to watch in the league and next in line to be the league’s most mesmerizing European star, is…
5. Vladimir Tarasenko – And His Emergence From Goalscorer to Franchise Player
Tarasenko deserves his own write-up because he went from not being on the team just four seasons ago to now being one of the three most lethal goal scorers in the league. Before the 2014 season, Tarasenko was looked at as a special sniper, but not-much else. Since, he’s posted back-to-back 70-plus point seasons and scored 77 goals over the last two years, second-best in the league over that stretch behind Alex Ovechkin.
Many fans outside of St. Louis and the Central Division haven’t gotten a good chance to see the Russian until last year’s playoffs where he scored six goals in six games, and he’s yet to receive the recognition he deserved until this postseason stretch.
Tarasenko has compiled 13 points in 14 games, and he now has a staggering 17 goals in 27 career playoff games. The Sharks will have to find a way to slow him down, and it’s hard to suggest how they will do that because no team in the league has figured that out over the last three seasons.