In Game 1, the Colorado Avalanche were a Formula 1 car. The Blues were a hoopty with a slamming transmission and flat tires.
The Avs were full speed and fiber optic internet. The Blues was an old AOL dial-up connection.
The Avs won the Triple Crown Secretariat in the Belmont Stakes. The Blues were Sham, the second place horse who lost to Secretariat by 31 lengths.
From St. Louis’ perspective, the difference between the teams was alarming. The talent gap was staggering. The Blues with no introduction and no account were pathetically sweet.
Surprisingly, the Avalanche had to go to overtime to claim their 3-2 victory late Tuesday night. Of course, we know the truth behind that: if not for heroic goalkeeper Jordan Binnington, the Blues would have lost this one by a score of 30-2. OK, maybe a slight exaggeration. But Binner was sensational.
Hopefully Coach Craig Berube will give his team’s forwards this valuable reminder: you don’t need an entry visa to travel to the offensive zone. There is no checkpoint, manned by armed security guards. Go on and skate over the blue line, hold the puck and try to score goals.
In a related note: early checking is not illegal.
“You have to make plays and you have to get more into the offensive zone,” Berube said. “We didn’t go there enough tonight. They come with a lot of pressure. I think our forwards, they need to work harder, they need to tackle pucks more and get into the offensive zone.
“We talked about it before the game – if you just put it in the neutral zone they’re going to counter and they came at us with a lot of speed and didn’t kill enough plays in the D zone.”
There is nothing to fear except the Avalanche, and the Blues must buckle up. You are the team that entered this second-round playoff series with Stanley Cup pedigree. Based on three consecutive second-round crashes (2019, ’20, ’21), the Avs were chosen as the lead cases. Presumably, we’ll see a change in the attitude of the Blues when they try to skate at altitude in Game 2.
From the Blues’ perspective, the base numbers were so absurdly one-sided in Game 1 that you have to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all.
— The Avs had 106 shot attempts. The Blues had 45.
— Shots on goal: 54 for the Avs, 25 for the Blues.
— Goalscoring opportunities: 43-13, Colorado.
— Dangerous net shots: 18-5, Avs.
– In the second period, the Blues had 13 shot attempts against 40 for Colorado.
— In overtime, one team took all the shots on goal. Go ahead and make a guess. Yes, the correct answer is the Avalanche, 13-0.
— The Blues only won 36% of face-offs on the night.
In most cases, the Blues held firm in the first half and Ryan O’Reilly even gave the boys a 1-0 lead after 6 minutes and 25 seconds of play. That goal stood for the rest of the first half. . It’s a promising start for the Blues. But the visitors didn’t score again until Jordan Kyrou tied the game 2-2 on the power play with 3:14 left in the third period.
After a respectable first period, this game turned into a huge rockslide…and Binnington stopped most of the rocks.
Starting in the second period, the Avs had 87 shot attempts to the Blues’ 29, shots on goal were 46-18, scoring chances were 35-9, and high-risk shots were 17- 1.
Other than that, the Blues played like the Montreal Canadiens from 1976-77.
The Avs took down the Blues with their top two lines: Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin on the top line. Artturi Lehkonen, Nazem Kadri and Gabriel Landeskog on the second row. At five-on-five, Colorado’s top two units had 55 of 71 shot attempts, 41 of 52 shots on goal and 24 of 29 scoring opportunities.
Colorado’s two best forward sets have embarrassed the Blues’ top two lines – especially the overwhelmed and uncompetitive line of Pavel Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko. “Booch” played just under 18 minutes five-on-five and had no shots on goal. Thomas played nearly 19 minutes five-on-five and had no shots on goal. Tarasenko – the worst and most disengaged player on the ice – had no shots on goal in 17 minutes and 43 seconds of five-on-five shifts. In 13 minutes together on a five-on-five line, the trio managed just two scoring chances and missed them both.
Binnington valiantly stood in front of the runaway Colorado train and did not flinch. He stopped 51 of 54 shots, including 11 of 12 from high-risk locations.
“He did a good job,” Blues defender Colton Parayko said. “He kept us in the game. It gave us a chance to win, that’s for sure.
Binnington did a “good” job?
No, Binnington did a phenomenal job.
His initials, JB, stand for “Just Brilliant”.
Binnington gave his zombie teammates a light playoff performance. Do you remember Binnington in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals and how he played in the first period in Boston in Game 7? Well, that was a remarkable 68 minutes of the same. Not just 20 minutes.
Binnington’s performance was reminiscent of Curtis Joseph’s most incredible game in front of the Blues. It was the 1993 playoffs. It happened May 5, Game 2 at the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Cujo blocked 57 of 58 shots and inspired the Blues to a 2-1 victory in two overtimes. I was there, covering the game as a columnist for the Post-Dispatch. I will never forget Cujo’s refusal to weaken and lay down.
At least the 1993 Blues won that game for Joseph. Binnington’s gift to Denver was wasted. Binnington did everything he could to steal Game 1 from the Blues, but the Blues were small and squandered the precious opportunity he gave them.
You just hope Binnington can keep doing it and give his team a second chance. A third chance. But damn it, he can’t win this series on his own. As Game 1 proved, Binnington can’t hold off the Avalanche indefinitely. When the dominant team has an 80 percent chance to score in the last 48 minutes of play, a puck will slip past them. But Binnington almost succeeded.
After replacing Ville Husso in goal in the Minnesota series and making four straight starts, Binnington ranks first among all eight surviving playoff team goaltenders in overall save percentage (.944), save percentage Five-on-five saves (.949) and high-danger save percentage (.917.) Only two of 24 slot/crease shots have passed Binnington in all four games. He is doing a special race.
The Blues owe Binnington – a lot – in Game 2. I’d like to write a weak joke about this series opener and say the Blues have punched more times than Tyler O’Neill. But at least O’Neill takes swings. The Blues mostly stood and watched the Avalanche skate around them, through them and beside them. Maybe for Game 2, the Blues should use yellow police tape to seal off the Neutral Zone: Crime Scene. Do not cross.
Now for some Happy Talks…
Because as miserable as the Blues are, they lost a one-goal game that turned into overtime. It’s crazy. Hell, if you bet on the Blues to cover the spread (+1.5 goals), you were an easy winner in Game 1.
With the exception of Binnington and a few others – Brandon Saad, Ivan Barbashev and Kyrou – no Blues intervened.
Most of the time they got in there.
In terms of skunk in offensive zone time, volume and quality of shots, a team can’t play worse than this. So it’s reasonable to expect a better effort and performance from the Blues in Game 2. Maybe a few of the team’s nine 20-goal scorers will reappear on Thursday.
Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper didn’t have much to do. In 68 minutes of hockey, Kuemper faced only TWO very dangerous shots from the Blues. OF THEM. Kuemper was so bored he should have tucked an Adirondack chair into the crease and had a plate of delicious Indian bison tacos delivered from Denver’s famed Tocabe restaurant.
The Blues made it ridiculously easy for Kuemper, and he still signaled two goals that slipped past him. Imagine what the Blues could do to this dude if they made Kuemper sweat by making more than a few token saves.
Guess the St. Louis forwards and defensemen will try to hamper the Avs talent and offer more resistance in Game 2. If not, they should buy tickets, grab some popcorn, and sit in the bleachers to watch Colorado’s beautiful skating.
For Game 2, I think the Blues will NOT look like a team that spent the afternoon of Game 1 in one of Colorado’s famous weed dispensaries.
Seriously, the Blues can still come back to St. Louis with the series tied at 1-1. This opportunity was not lost, even though the first game was lost. Bérubé has an admirable touch at making adjustments, and he’ll be reorganizing like crazy by the Game 2 opener.
That all sounds great, but it won’t matter unless Binnington keeps playing like he has the song “Gloria” swirling around in his head…2019 style.
Let’s go Blues.
Let’s go in game 2.
After Tuesday’s frustrating loss, Money Puck gives the Blues just an 18.5 percent chance of winning the series.
If the Blues don’t win in Game 2, they may have to start planning their homecoming this summer. But this team has been resolute all season and usually responds with extra determination when downed. It’s time to do it again.
Thanks for reading …
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Unless otherwise stated, all statistics used here are from Hockey Reference or Natural Stat Trick.