Scott Rovak / St. Louis Blues

Pucks tell the story of Blues’ rollercoaster season

ST. LOUIS — Inside the St. Louis Blues dressing room in Enterprise Center hangs a mounted board on the wall near the entrance, a few feet to the left of Jake Allen’s stall. The six shelves filled with hockey pucks tells the story of the team’s wild ride during the 2018-19 NHL season.

As time expired in the Blues’ 2-1 Game 5 victory over the Boston Bruins, Alex Steen flipped the puck out the defensive zone. Hopping off the bench at the same time to celebrate with his teammates was David Perron, who scooped up the puck to add to the shelf. 

The win Thursday night was St. Louis’ 60th of the season. The shelves on the puck board have enough room to hold 60 of them. At the top of the board, above the I and S in St. Louis, is a spot for one more puck, which was added once they reached the Stanley Cup Final. That spot signifies the 61st win of the season — the win that will make them champions.

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The origin of the puck board goes back in training camp when the Blues took a preseason trip to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. There they met with Admiral Wallace E. “Ted” Carter, who presented then-head coach Mike Yeo with his personal military coin. The coin features the emblem of the Naval Academy crest, Admiral Carter’s three stars, his signature and aviation call sign, which happens to be “Slapshot.”

Yeo had the coin mounted on the board featuring six shelves inside the dressing room in hopes that they could look back at the end of the season as a reminder of how that trip played a role in a successful year.

Blues legend Bob Plager put the first puck up on the board on Oct. 11.

Yeo is no longer behind the bench but the puck board remains, even though it took a while fill up.

Only three pucks were added in October, and four more in November before Yeo was fired. New head coach Craig Berube decided not to take down the sparsely-filled board. He did, however, take down the standings board that players saw on their way toward the dressing room at their practice facility. It was a reminder to not look back and only worry about the future.

The shelves started to fill up after Berube took over and then things really took off beginning in January when the Blues won 15 of 18 games, which was boosted by an 11-game winning streak. 

There are two pucks on the board that are meaningful to forward Ryan O’Reilly and signify a turn in the Blues’ season. They reside next to one another, marking wins No. 26 and 27. They’re from a February home and home sweep over the Nashville Predators.

“That was pretty monumental, just showed that we can do it,” said O’Reilly. “That was a very good hockey team that we beat two in a row that gave us significant points and pushed us ahead. Gave us some good belief that, hey, we’re an elite team here. We can do this.”

Now it’s June 9. The shelves are full with just that single slot ready to be filled. The puck board is a reminder for the Blues of how this season has gone and how, had there not be such a turnaround, the entire direction of the franchise could have been altered. How many core faces would have been traded away? Who would have been out of a job? All questions that no one has to answer any more.

“They all [tell a story],” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo of the pucks. “How long it took to fill it up and how quickly it started to fill up, that’s kind of the summary of our season. It was fun when those pucks kept going up after every game in that second half of the year. It was not fun to look at that board in the first half of the season not seeing any pucks up there.”

The Blues have two games to fill that final spot. They know the Bruins will give them their best and being able to earn that last puck will be a challenge.

“That’s the one we need,” said O’Reilly. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final will take place Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on NBC (live stream here)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.