It was a master class in the art of grouping.
From the moment his team lost Game 1 of the series 3-2 in overtime, St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube was calm, composed and expressed confidence.
It had nothing to do with false bravado, it was sincere belief.
Bérubé had seen his group bounce back before and he expected them to do it again, even though the Blues had far too many passengers and were completely outplayed in Game 1.
Berube spoke openly about what his team needed to do better, then he decided to make some changes to each of his first three lines to try and find an offensive spark.
That subtle twist of the mixer worked like a charm, but the 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche probably had as much to do with the right mindset as it did with different combinations.
Berube also made excellent use of a timeout after Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin received a goalie interference call that gave the Blues a two-man advantage late with 1:24 left. do in the second period.
With Torey Krug still unavailable through injury, Berube opted for a five-forward setup on the power play, using Pavel Buchnevich atop the umbrella, and that bold call also paid immediate dividends, with David Perron scoring on a one-timer that changed direction on the stick of Avalanche defenseman and Game 1 overtime hero Josh Manson.
Perron had his fingerprints throughout this game, scoring a valuable insurance marker midway through the third period after the Avalanche made things interesting with a power-play goal from captain Gabe Landeskog (who came with Perron in the box serving a minor hook).
Perron nearly scored the hat trick on a long-range attempt at the empty net after Brandon Saad gave the Blues a three-goal cushion.
“I don’t know. He likes to score. I know that,” Berube told reporters in Denver. “But he was very competitive. Tough on the pucks. I think he did a really good job hanging on to the pucks in the offensive zone. Great job getting the pucks up in our zone on the walls.
That’s the thing about Perron, as hard-hitting as he can be offensively – and he now leads the Blues in playoff points, with seven goals and 11 points in eight games – he makes so many small things that do not appear on the results sheet.
That ability to create while also being responsible on the two-way line with Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly is a big reason Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon and Norris Trophy contender Cale Makar have been limited to no goals and one assist between them through two games.
Instead of trailing 2-0 and facing an uphill battle, the Blues stole a game on the road and turned this series into a best-of-five while battling home ice advantage.
“It’s the playoffs for you there. Big roller coaster,” Perron told reporters. “Obviously we didn’t feel good about ourselves the last game. We probably had two or three players who played well, that was all. Tonight we had a lot more guys and it was important to find a way to win one here on the road, just like we did last time out against Minnesota. We have to keep moving forward here.
One thing for the Blues that didn’t change in Game 2 was goalkeeper Jordan Binnington’s play.
Although he wasn’t as busy as in Game 1, when he faced 106 shot attempts and 54 shots on goal, Binnington was once again rock solid, finishing with 30 saves while still doing a great job of assisting on breakouts with his edge. puck handling.
“It probably gives our D a lot of confidence as well, knowing they don’t have to come back for every puck and knowing how good forechecking and physicality they can be,” Perron said. “It’s a huge thing for us, that’s for sure. By the time he entered the Minnesota series, we saw a difference with his quality with the puck, and we want to continue to do that.
Goaltending wasn’t really the problem for the Avalanche, as Jordan Kyrou’s long wrist changed direction on defenseman Sam Girard’s stick and trumped Darcy Kuemper, who finished with 28 saves.
Perron’s second goal was the one Kuemper got with his glove but would love to get back, although the bigger issue was the turnover just inside the offensive blue line that led to the strange man rush after miscommunication between Andre Burakovsky and Makar. .
“It’s a high turnover in the area. At the end of the day, I’m not going to blame either guy, but you have to take care of the puck,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “If you turn it over there, there’s a good chance something bad will happen.”
It wasn’t a play; the Blues were clearly the better side and rose to the challenge.
“We played a connected hockey game,” Binnington said, repeating a mantra mentioned by Berube several times after Game 1. “We were all supporting each other, and you know the depth we had today, it was good. We just trusted our game. We just talked about controlling the puck and going back and trying to outnumber them all over the ice.
By hanging on to the pucks and completing more plays, the Blues found a way to limit the Avalanche’s powerful offense, which didn’t generate the same kind of sustained pressure that was their calling card in the first. match.
“Right off the bat, it looked like we were a lot more forechecking. We had them defend,” Perron said. “It’s definitely going to slow them down a bit, chewing up their bodies so they can’t get the speed they want.”
MacKinnon found balance speaking on the podium, sharing the disappointment and need for more without overreacting to what was the Avalanche’s mediocre first effort.
“We didn’t get our jump. Our execution was called off. We didn’t feel it, we were just fighting there, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s 1-1,” MacKinnon said. “It happens. We try our best. We came prepared (and did) everything we could. Right next door everyone was a bit apart – or really off. We still had a chance to tie him up.
“Through our experience, that’s what you learn. In years past, we could dwell on it and put each other down or whatever, but we have to pick ourselves up, move on, and stay positive. We have a great team, we still believe we can get things done and win this series. We are not going to sweep all the towers.
Now it’s up to the Avalanche to see if they can follow suit and deliver a backlash after suffering their first loss of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“No. 1, we overworked and skated. So that makes everything harder,” Bednar said. “In the first game, I thought we were the fastest team, I thought we worked extremely hard and that was probably their biggest adjustment, wasn’t it? They needed to get this work out of their band, they got it. We did not do it. So they were much better and we were worse.
“It’s a game, we knew it would be a long and difficult series. (Les Bleus) are a very good team. They responded after a bad night in Game 1, now the responsibility is on us. We have to do exactly the same thing.
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