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The 10 dates from the ’18-19 season that led Blues to Stanley Cup Final

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The Cinderella story for the St. Louis Blues continued on Tuesday night.

A convincing 5-1 win pushed the Blues past the San Jose Sharks and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 long years. St. Louis will get its chance at redemption, nearly a half-century in the making, when they face the Boston Bruins beginning next Monday.

But while it is a little less than a week’s wait for the Cup Final to begin, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on just where the Blues came from over the past five months. Truly, the Blues started from the bottom and now they’re here, competing for hockey’s grandest prize.

Here are 10 dates from the 2018-19 NHL season that changed the course of history for the Blues.

Nov. 19, 2018

We’re going to skip back a month and a half before things really kicked off for the Blues on the ice, and look back at the date they made a change behind the bench. A troubling 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings — their third shutout defeat in their past four games at the time — and limping along with a 7-9-3 record despite going guns a-blazin’ in the offseason, attracting the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, general manager Doug Armstrong pulled another trigger, this time firing Mike Yeo as head coach and replacing him with Craig Berube, who was an associate coach of Yeo’s.

Jan. 3, 2019

Things under Berube didn’t get off to the best start. The Blues lost their first game with him behind the bench 4-1 to Nashville and two games later got obliterated by Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets in an 8-4 rout. Losses to Arizona (6-1) and Edmonton (3-2 SO) is how the Blues began December. They’d go on to fall twice to Vancouver in 2018’s final month and came back from the Christmas break to post a 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh and a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers. All the losing meant that when the Blues awoke on Jan. 3, they were wallowing in last place in the NHL. Happy New Year.

Jan. 6, 2019

A few players ventured to a bar in Philadelphia the night before they were set to face the Flyers. Presumably, we could assume they were drowning their sorrows of a season that had gone completely off the rails. Instead, Laura Branigan came on over the speakers during the Philadelphia Eagles’ playoff game against the Chicago Bears. The song, “Gloria,” would end up turning into their victory anthem. Who knew it would be played so many times in the weeks and months to come. “When I hear it, that’s a good thing, right. That means we’ve won the game,” Berube would later say.

Jan. 7, 2019

The Blues lost Carter Hutton to free agency several months earlier and had placed all their faith in starter Jake Allen. Allen’s play certainly hadn’t helped the team in the first half of the season, a stretch summed up quite succinctly by a .896 save percentage. Enter Jordan Binnington, a 25-year-old career minor leaguer who played a grand total of 13 minutes in the NHL, and had never started a game. By now you know the name, but back then, you didn’t. Nevertheless, Binnington started to push his way into the spotlight, first by blanking the Flyers in a 3-0 win. Binnington stopped 25 shots that night. The next several days and weeks, even, everyone wondered if the skinny kid with the iceman demeanor was just the next Andrew Hammond. We know the answer to that now.

[RELATED: Jordan Binnington’s incredible, season-saving run for Blues]

Jan. 23, 2019 – Feb. 24, 2019

Twelve St. Louis skaters figure into the points in a 5-1 win against the lowly Anaheim Ducks on a Wednesday night in late January. The game by itself isn’t especially important but is the start of something much more grandiose. The Blues began that day four points adrift from the league’s basement but would go on a season-defining 11-game winning streak over the next month that would eventually end in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 24, in the second half of a back-to-back. The Blues gained a whopping 12 places in the overall league standings, going from 25th to 13th. More importantly, they went from sixth place in the Central Division to third.

March 6, 2019

If we’re looking for a date where the Blues announced their intentions to the rest of the league, it may have been an early March game against the Anaheim Ducks. The Blues owned a 3-1 lead midway through the game when a very poor Ducks team staged a comeback. They scored twice to close out the second period to tie the game and then Adam Henrique gave the Ducks a 4-3 advantage. Knowing the Ducks, no lead is safe, and sure enough, Robert Thomas found the back of the net to tie the game. Overtime, surely:

April 6, 2019

The final day of the regular season for the Blues, who won 3-2 in a shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks. For a brief moment, they were first in the Central Division before the Nashville Predators eventually won it later in the day and the Winnipeg Jets slotted into the second spot, tied on 99 points with the Blues. They closed out the season winners of 14 of their final 16 games and narrowly missed out on going from worst to first in a four-month stretch. Still, U.S. Thanksgiving statistics be damned, the Blues were headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were the hottest team entering the postseason.

May 7, 2019

The Blues had won Game 6 two nights earlier to force a Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in Round 2. Two third period goals, including one after a Colton Parayko point shot that drilled Stars goalie Ben Bishop, sealed Dallas’ fate on that night. Two days later, they had to do it all over again. Bishop was shaken up, but the Vezina Trophy finalist dressed for Game 7 and was spectacular. A 1-1 deadlock after 60 minutes meant overtime, and the first period of play solved nothing. Bishop had made 52 saves in the game up until the 5:50 mark of double OT. It was then that Bishop didn’t get all of a puck that dropped behind him, allowing St. Louis native Patrick Maroon to get his stick on it to push it over the goal line. The Blues, in front of a sold out Enterprise Center, were off to the Western Conference Final.

May 15, 2019

The San Jose Sharks had caught a tremendous break in Game 7 of Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Essentially, a missed call resulted in a major penalty for Vegas’ Cody Eakins. The Sharks, who trailed 3-0, scored four on the ensuing power play and would go on to win in overtime. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the Sharks were on the receiving end of what could have been another series defining missed call. This time, the Sharks are in overtime against the Blues in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. Timo Meier appears to bat the puck (a blatant hand pass) into the front of the net where an anxiously awaiting Erik Karlsson sits. Karlsson makes no mistake, winning the game to take a 2-1 series lead. The Blues were irate on the ice but Berube went into the dressing room after the game and calmed the troops. Unlike Vegas, the Blues had a chance to right that wrong.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

May 21, 2019

The Blues kept a level head after Game 3’s debacle and came out and took Game 4 by a 2-1 margin. Now a race to two wins, the Blues took the path of least resistance, beginning with a 5-0 blanking of the woeful Sharks in Game 5. Injuries began to mount for San Jose, who were without Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl for parts of Game 5 and all three for Game 6. There, the Blues secured a 5-1 win, putting themselves into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 years.

From Jan. 3, where they sat last, to discovering “Gloria,” and finding their diamond in the rough in Binnington, the Blues have put together one of the most memorable and impressive comebacks in NHL history. Now, they have one more hurdle in the Bruins (minus Bobby Orr), the team they last faced in the 1970 Cup Final. Does redemption, nearly 50 years in the making, await?

It would add the final chapter to what’s been a storybook season in St. Louis.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Brind’Amour calls for expanded replay: ‘Help the refs’

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One of the biggest storylines in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been the state of the officiating and instant replay in the league.

It has been such a dominant talking point because there have been several controversial plays and calls that were allowed to stand because the on-ice officials and the NHL’s situation room were unable to correct them.

Among the biggest calls that have caused the most criticism…

There have been several other plays, but those are the big ones, especially since none of them were able to be reviewed by the league’s current instant replay rules. All of these plays happening in the playoffs, within a very short period of time, has naturally steered the discussion in the direction of increased instant replay.

Count Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour among those in favor of doing more to help the on-ice officials get the calls right.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Before Game 4 of his team’s series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream), Brind’Amour was asked about the latest missed call (Karlsson’s overtime winner on Wednesday night in St. Louis) and whether or not it is time to use more replay.

“It’s been time forever,” said Brind’Amour. “I was sitting at home with my son watching that game, there was a play earlier, think it was one of those [puck] flipped over the glass, and said watch how long this is going to take when we’ll know within three seconds — and we did. NBC showed a review, it’s a penalty. They [the refs] were actually quick to say no penalty, but it’s time. We can go on with this forever. It’s time. It’s time to get the calls right because it’s just too important, the games matter so much. I don’t know, that was tough last night to watch.”

He continued: “Help the refs. These refs are great refs. Live you can’t tell. There are so many calls where I go, I don’t really know, then I look down, I see it, then I lose my mind because I know it’s the wrong call. But they can’t be expected to make those calls like that, it’s way too hard. There’s an easy solution for it, I think. They will get to it because this can’t keep going on. It’s tough.”

Critics of expanded replay will complain of the “slippery slope” it sends the league down, the unintended consequences that come with such rule changes, and also point to the fact that even with review there is still going to be controversy and calls that aren’t as black-and-white as you might hope (see that Gabriel Landeskog offside play in Game 7 against the Sharks as an example of the latter two points).

But at some point you have to be willing to do something more than just shrug your shoulders and say, “there’s nothing that can be done” when one of these plays happens.

Especially when the technology easily exists to right some of these wrongs.

Maybe the solution is an NFL-style format where every scoring play is automatically reviewed for anything that could deem it illegal (like a hand pass setting it up, or a puck hitting the protective netting). The league can already review for whether or not the puck totally crossed the line or a potential high-sticking infraction. It should not be issue to add other elements of the play to that.

Maybe it is giving a coach one challenge per game that can be used on anything (not just offside or goaltender interference, as the current rule allows) at their own discretion.

Maybe all of it ends up on the table.

A couple of egregious missed offside calls over the years eventually resulted in that play being reviewable. Given how this postseason has gone across the league you can be certain that there is going to be plenty of discussion about adding to it, maybe even as soon as next season.

It doesn’t seem to be a matter of if it happens at this point, but simply a matter of what it looks like and how much it changes when it does.

MORE:
Luck finally on Sharks’ side in Stanley Cup pursuit
• Blues try to keep their cool despite losing on undetected hand pass
• 
Missed call hands Sharks 2-1 series lead against Blues in Western Conference Final

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Luck finally on Sharks’ side in Stanley Cup pursuit

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There are four key factors that all need to be working in near perfect harmony for a team to win the Stanley Cup.

First and foremost, the team needs to have talent. A lot of talent. Nobody is going to make the playoffs and then successfully get through four best-of-seven series against other playoff teams without impact players at the top of the lineup and plenty of depth to go around them.

Going hand in hand with that is the fact that talent needs to be playing well at the right time of year. It needs to be “the hot team” come playoff time. Even the very best teams are prone to a four-or-five game stretch in a season where things simply do not click for them. If you hit one of those slumps in April or May a strong regular season is going to quickly be forgotten (just ask Tampa Bay, Washington, or Pittsburgh this year).

But those two factors can only take a team so far.

It also needs to be healthy and have its key players in the lineup. There are very few teams that get through an entire postseason while dealing with a significant injury to a core player the entire time. It’s not necessarily just the best team that is still standing at the end of the playoffs, but rather a very good team that is also extremely healthy.

Then there is the fourth factor, which is often times the most difficult to come by and the one that is most out of a team’s control.

Luck.

Plain old fashioned dumb luck.

Some stupid, unpredictable, random moment that is completely out of your control that just so happens to go your way when you need it most.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Luck can be a nasty four-letter word to mention to sports fans when you are referring to their team because it creates the sense you are invalidating their team’s success.

“Luck? My team wasn’t lucky, you coward… it was GREAT!”

Or something along those lines.

Here is the reality: Your championship team may very well have been great, it certainly deserved to win, but it was also undoubtedly lucky at some point during its championship run. It is not a slight. It is not an insult. It is simply a big part of what sports is, especially hockey where you have 10 people chasing a frozen piece of rubber around a sheet of ice at lightning quick speeds. Sometimes weird stuff happens.

Pick any random championship team and look at its postseason and you will probably find something, somewhere along the way, that flipped a game or a series in its favor that wasn’t necessarily due to the result of its play or talent level.

The thing about “luck” in this context is that it can literally be anything. It can be a fortunate bounce off the glass or boards that sets up a tap-in goal. It can be injury luck (either your team being healthy or your opponent being hurt by an injury). It can be a call that goes a certain team’s way, or a replay review, or something that is entirely out of its control. It can be a random player catching fire at the right time and shooting the lights out for a few weeks, scoring

This all brings us to the 2019 San Jose Sharks who are the most dangerous type of Stanley Cup playoff team. They have great talent and they have a lot of it. Now that Joe Pavelski is back in the lineup after a six-game absence in Round 2 they are mostly healthy. And, yes, they have been incredibly lucky to this point.

“Incredibly lucky” may even be underselling it because they have had a key break go their way in every series they have played against every opponent.

In Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights it was the controversial (or, let’s just call it what it was — wrong) call on Cody Eakin that gave them a five-minute power play late in the third period of Game 7 while trailing by three goals. Yes, the Sharks still needed to score three power play goals — something that was far from a given and still statistically unlikely to happen at the beginning of the power play — and yes Vegas still needed to self-destruct, but the reality is that break kept a door open that should have shut, locked and completely secured. That is an element of luck.

In Game 7 of Round 2 against the Colorado Avalanche it was the replay review that negated what would have been a game-tying goal because Gabriel Landeskog took too much time getting off the ice during a line change and was maybe offside. There is a good chance that call was correct, but the fact is that goal wasn’t taken off the board because of anything San Jose did defensively. It was taken off the board because of what was ultimately a meaningless action by a player that had nothing to do with the play itself. That, too, is luck.

Then on Wednesday night in St. Louis they were able to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final thanks to an Erik Karlsson overtime goal that was clearly set up by a hand pass that should have negated it and was ultimately not reviewable by the current NHL rule book. You don’t need me to tell you what that should be considered.

If you are not a Sharks fan you can (and should) hate some of those results, and they will no doubt eventually lead to significant changes to the game in future seasons (or at least the possibility of significant changes).

If you are a Sharks fan you shouldn’t run from the fact there is a strong element of luck at play here. And you shouldn’t care because, again, this is sports.

This is also a new development for the Sharks and it’s an important one in their quest for their first-even championship, especially since it almost seems as if two decades worth of bad postseason luck is all being undone in two months. The Sharks have had a lot of outstanding teams over the years, including top-seeded teams, a Presidents’ Trophy team, and teams that should have been very real threats to win the Stanley Cup only to be undone by something come playoff time. Sometimes it was a goaltending meltdown (pretty much any Evgeni Nabokov series), an injury at the wrong time (Marc-Edouard Vlasic in 2014), or just simply not catching a significant break of their own or getting their best players to all click at the same time.

Right now, everything, including the luck element, is going in their favor.

Whether all of it is enough to continue carrying them through to the Stanley Cup Final and give them their first championship is still to be determined, but there is no denying it is a key part of their story so far and a big part of why they are still playing and are just two wins away from advancing again.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues try to keep their cool despite losing on undetected hand pass

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We’ve already seen what a blown call can elicit from players in the infancy following the final buzzer of an NHL playoff game.

Jonathan Marchessault was rage-incarnate following the Vegas Golden Knights blew a 3-0 third-period lead in Game 7 of Round 1 after the San Jose Sharks were awarded a five-minute major on a phantom cross-checking call on teammate Cody Eakin.

Marchessault let it fly, four-letter words aplenty.

The St. Louis Blues loss in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final could very well have had the same reaction.

[Related: Missed call hands Sharks 2-1 series lead vs. Blues]

Erik Karlsson scored the overtime winner after Timo Meier‘s nifty hand pass found Gustav Nyquist, who dished it to Karlsson for his second of the game. The Blues appealed for justice immediately, but when the gavel hit, the goal stood.

“I really didn’t get an explanation other than I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams,” Alex Pietrangelo told reporters during his post-game scrum. “I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it.”

Asked if he thought it was a hand pass, Pietrangelo sarcastically laughed and then said he wasn’t going to say another word on the subject.

Craig Berube, too.

“I have nothing to say about it,” the Blues head coach said. “The team’s got to move on. We all have to move on from it. There’s nothing we can do about what happened.”

Prior to that, a reporter asked him if he thought there was a hand pass made on the play.

“What do you guys think?” Berube countered with.

“Yes” was the consensus answer for the press corps.

“Then don’t ask me. No reason to ask me,” Berube said.

Berube conceded that the Blues should have closed out the game after coming back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to lead 4-3 in the game before Logan Couture sent the game to overtime with a 1:01 remaining and the San Jose net empty.

But he wanted to lose on merit, at least.

Elsewhere, some chose to look straight ahead.

“Let’s move forward, that’s what we’re going to try and do in the next 24 hours,” said David Perron, who had two goals in the game. “We’re a really good team in here.”

Alex Steen flat-out wouldn’t comment on the play.

“That’s fine, you guys can talk about it,” Steen said when pressed on the subject. “We’re going to get ready for Game 4 here.”

Meanwhile, the NHL’s series director Kay Whitmore weighed in on the goal with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford.

“It’s a non-reviewable play,” Whitemore said. “You can read between the lines. You can figure out what you want. You watched the video. But it’s just non-reviewable. I know that sounds like a cop-out answer, but that’s the truth.”

Whitmore was asked if the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto could step in.

“If there was, then you answered your (question),” he said. “The way the rules are written, any chance there is to review, everything is reviewed that’s reviewable. But as the rules currently stand, the play is non-reviewable.”

Whitemore was then asked if the play should be reviewable.

“There’s a group of people (GMs) that will make that decision at some point,” he said.

Unlike the Golden Knights, the Blues have a chance to right the wrong. Better it happen in Game 3 than in Game 7, if that’s any consolation in St. Louis.

MORE: Vince Dunn done for night after being struck in mouth by puck


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Missed call hands Sharks 2-1 series lead vs. Blues

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Neither of them saw it.

All four of them, specifically.

Two referees and two linesmen missed a hand pass by Timo Meier, a puck that Gustav Nyquist then moved to Erik Karlsson, who planted it behind Jordan Binnington for the overtime winner in a 5-4 triumph, now shrouded in controversy, that put the San Jose Sharks ahead of the St. Louis Blues 2-1 in the Western Conference Final.

From the moment the light went on behind Binnington, the Blues were incensed. Binnington got right back to his feet after the puck trickled by him and immediately pleaded the case. The rest of his teammates followed his lead.

The play, however, wasn’t reviewable. The Situation Room in Toronto would be of no use. And all four in the black and white striped long-sleeves missed what appeared to be a blatant hand pass.

The goal, then, had to stand.

This is the rule, if you’re wondering:

79.1 Hand Pass – A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or deflected off any player or official.

The Sharks have been on the right side of luck a couple times now in the playoffs, most notably in Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Trailing 3-0 in the third period, the Sharks were gifted a five-minute power play after Cody Eakin was thought to have cross-checked Joe Pavelski in the head, causing him to crash violently into the ice and forcing him out of the game.

You know the rest of that story. The Sharks tied the game and then won in overtime to progress to face the Blues.

Two missed calls and two critical wins for the Sharks, who regained home-ice advantage after the Blues earned a split back at SAP Center.

And credit to the Blues, who despite letting their frustrations out on the glass and the half boards, took the high road after the game.

“I have nothing to say about it,” Craig Berube said. “The team’s got to move on. We all have to move on from it. There’s nothing we can do about what happened.”

Added Alex Pietrangelo: “I guess there’s a different set of rules for two different teams. I’m sure they’ll lose some sleep tonight after looking at it.”

The Blues had a remarkable second period after the Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Alex Steen‘s second of the playoffs cut the deficit in half just 1:18 into the period. Joe Thornton‘s second of the night canceled that out just 18 seconds later, but the Blues and their never-die attitude, rebounded, scoring three straight, one from Vladimir Tarasenko and then two goals from David Perron in a span of 2:39.

“We’ve got to do better there,” Berube said. “We got to close that game out, in my opinion. We should have won it 4-3.”

Colton Parayko had his hand on three of the four second-period goals, grabbing assists on them while he kept Logan Couture at bay.

That happens from time to time. Sometimes for 20 minutes. Maybe 40. Even 58:59. But 60 minutes? Godspeed to you.

And while Parayko put in a valiant effort against Couture, when the net was empty and it was 6-on-5 for the Sharks, Parayko couldn’t hold the fort anymore.

Couture’s league-leading 14th sent the game to overtime.

Game 4 goes on Friday at 8 p.m. on NBCSN

MORE: Vince Dunn done for night after being struck in mouth by puck


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck