Binnington helps Blues narrowly defeat Jets in his postseason debut

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The Winnipeg Jets tested Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington. Mark Scheifele ran into him out of the gate and Patrik Laine beat him with a huge goal early in the first period, but Binnington didn’t unravel in his postseason debut. He kept the Blues in the contest until they could battle back in the third period to earn a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg in Game 1.

“Yeah, (Binnington) did a great job … early on, with the Scheifele thing … but that’s part of the playoffs and he handled it well, and he played a hell of a game,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.

Binnington has been the story of the Blues’ campaign thus far. He didn’t start the season in the NHL, but with St. Louis struggling mightily and the Blues’ goaltending not living up to expectations, Chad Johnson was put on waivers in December. With the opening that created, it wasn’t long until Binnington became the spark St. Louis needed, guiding the Blues into the playoffs with a 24-5-1 record, 1.89 GAA, and .927 save percentage in 32 games.

It wasn’t all Binnington though. This was a hard fought battle against two teams that looked even. The third period was certainly St. Louis’ though. The Jets’ 1-0 lead was finally eliminated at 4:05 of the third period when David Perron scored just his fifth goal in 58 career playoff games. Tyler Bozak, who like Perron was signed as a UFA over the summer, scored the winner with just 2:05 left. Pat Maroon, yet another summer addition, deserves a lot of credit for carrying the puck and setting up Bozak on the deciding goal.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That gave the Jets plenty of time to have one more sustained shot at Binnington, but nothing got by him with the pressure on.

St. Louis was one of the hottest teams in the league coming into the playoffs. The Blues went 28-8-5 in the second half, which isn’t far behind the dominate Tampa Bay Lightning’s 30-9-2 record in their final 41 games. That strong finish made up for St. Louis’ rocky start and resulted in St. Louis tying Winnipeg in terms of regular season points at 99.

Even if Game 1 was in Winnipeg by virtue of the tiebreaker, St. Louis can hardly be classified as the underdog and this win isn’t a true upset. It was a close game between two evenly matched squads in a series that’s far from decided.

Blues-Jets Game 2 from Bell MTS Place will be Friday night at 9:30 p.m. ET on CNBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Blackhawks outlast Blues in shootout win

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The chances of the St. Louis Blues going from last place in the National Hockey League just after the New Year began to finish first in the Central Division at regular season’s end took a bit of a hit on Wednesday Night Hockey.

The Blues dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks, who were punted from playoff contention a night earlier.

Wednesday’s game on NBCSN was St. Louis’ game-in-hand on the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets. A win would have put them level on 96 points with their two of Central rivals, but they only managed one point to put them on 95 with two games remaining. Essentially, they will need Winnipeg and Nashville to each drop their two remaining games and find wins in their own two remaining to steal the division crown.

Both Nashville and Winnipeg are in action on Thursday.

Jonathan Toews was the start of the show, opening the scoring in the first period off a slick feed from Patrick Kane for his 35th. The goal gave Toews a new career high, surpassing the total of 34 he set 10 years ago.

Toews then scored the only goal of the shootout to give Chicago the win.

Some figured Toews fell off last year after his worst statistical season outside of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. Instead, the 30-year-old has set a new career high in goals and points and has matched a career mark in assists, needing just one more for the career-high hat trick.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

St. Louis was a stubborn bunch in this game. They trailed 3-1 in the third period thanks to Kane’s 42nd but watched as David Perron brought the game to 3-2 and then Tyler Bozak scored with 38.9 seconds showing on the game clock to force overtime.

Cam Ward got the start for the Blackhawks in what could be his final in the NHL. There’s a thought out there that the 35-year-old could hang ’em up after his 699th NHL appearance.

The start was Ward’s first in a month, with an injury keeping him out of action for a good chunk of that. Still, the veteran backstop turned aside 37 shots in win No. 333 in his 14-year NHL career.

The Blues went with Jake Allen, who made 35 saves. St. Louis plays the second half of a back to back against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and it’s expected that rookie wonder Jordan Binnington will get the call there.

St. Louis still needs to make sure they get another point, regardless of where they finish, just in case the Dallas Stars win out. Dallas (91 points) could move into third place in the division if everything went right for them and everything went wrong for the Blues.

A final note: Kane set a new career-high in points with 107, eclipsing the 106 that won him the Art Ross in 2015-16.


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

David Perron has been Blues’ overlooked star

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The St. Louis Blues were one of the NHL’s most active teams over the summer, going all out in an effort to improve an offense that was one of the league’s worst a season ago. Along with acquiring Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres and signing Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon in free agency, they also brought back veteran winger David Perron (after losing him in the expansion draft the previous year) on a four-year, $16 million contract for what is now his third different stint with the team.

So far, that addition has proven to be worth every penny the Blues have paid.

Perron scored two more goals and added an assist in the Blues’ 7-2 thumping of the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night, bringing his season totals to 20 goals and 40 total points in 48 games. He is currently third on the team in goals scored and fourth in total points despite the fact he has missed more than 20 games and was sidelined for two consecutive months, having just returned to the lineup this past weekend.

In his first three games back in the lineup he already has three goals and two assists, including Tuesday’s big performance. If you go back to before his injury, he has now recorded at least one point in 16 consecutive games for the Blues and, when healthy, has been one of their most consistent and productive players this season.

It all continues what has been a fascinating career trajectory for Perron.

After showing some signs of being a top-line player early in his career with the Blues but never really fully reaching that potential, things kind of stalled out for him as he bounced around the league, going from Edmonton, to Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and then back to St. Louis between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

But when he arrived in Vegas as part of the Golden Knights’ expansion draft haul his career seemed to be injected with new life.

He was instantly one of their top players and one of the key ingredients in their improbable debut season that resulted in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. It was the best season of his career and resulted in a pretty decent pay day in free agency this past season. He has followed it up in St. Louis with what has been, to this point, the second best season of his career as he is currently on what would amount to a 34-goal, 68-point pace over 82 games. (Because of the time missed due to injury, he is probably likely to finish with around 24 goals and 50 points in 57 games … which is still excellent).

There is almost certainly an element of randomness and luck to some of his production this season, especially since he is currently carrying around a 21 percent shooting percentage this season, well above his normal career average. That number will almost certainly drop in future seasons, but you still can not take away what he has already done this season.

During 5-on-5 play he has been one of the Blues’ best players, averaging more points per 60 minutes (2.34) than every other player on the team, and by a pretty significant margin (O’Reilly is second at 2.15, while Oskar Sundqvist is the only player over 2.00). He is also one of the team’s leaders in primary assists, indicating that he is helping to drive the offense when he is on the ice.

The Blues badly needed more offensive playmakers to put around Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn, and the additions of O’Reilly and Perron have really helped.

Now that Perron is back in the lineup, they are going to need him to continue the current pace he has been on so far this season as they get ready for the start of the playoffs.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ducks host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues remarkable turnaround since mid-January has them positioned to make the playoffs despite finding themselves in last place in the league on the morning of Jan. 3. St. Louis has struggled more recently, however, coming off back-to-back regulation losses to Carolina and Dallas.

Since the NHL’s Expansion Era (1967-68), only six teams have made the playoffs after ranking last in the entire League at any point after Jan. 1 (min. 20 GP). The only teams to accomplish the feat in that era: the 1976-77 North Stars, 1979-80 Oilers, 1982-83 Maple Leafs, 1987-88 Kings, 1987-88 Maple Leafs and 1996-97 Senators.

The Blues have one of the easiest upcoming schedules in the league in terms of lowest cumulative points percentage for remaining opponents and only have two remaining divisional games on the schedule (April 1 against COL and April 3 in Chicago).

It is highly unlikely that Anaheim will make the playoffs, thus ending their streak of six consecutive years in the postseason.

Cam Fowler (57G-206A—263 points in 605 GP) needs one point and three goals to tie Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer (60G-204A—264 points in 371 GP) for the most ever by a Ducks defenseman. Earlier this season Ryan Miller became the all-time leader in wins by a U.S.- born goaltender, passing John Vanbiesbrouck (374).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks
Where: Honda Center
When: Wednesday, March 6, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Brayden SchennRyan O'ReillyVladimir Tarasenko
Patrick MaroonTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Jaden SchwartzOskar SundqvistAlex Steen
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan Barbashev – Samuel Blais

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnMichael Del Zotto

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

DUCKS
Kevin Roy – Ryan GetzlafCorey Perry
Rickard Rakell – Sam Steel – Jakob Silfverberg
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueTroy Terry
Max JonesRyan KeslerCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Jacob Larsson – Cam Fowler
Jaycob Megna – Korbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Hayward (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

How much will Blues miss Perron as he heads to IR?

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After a terribly disappointing start to the 2018-19 season the St. Louis Blues have been trying to play their way back into playoff contention in the wide open Western Conference. They went 7-4-1 in the month of January and because of that have climbed back to within three points of a Wild Card spot.

They are one of the log-jam of teams fighting for those two spots in an incredibly crowded field.

One of the driving forces behind that recent surge has been the play of veteran forward David Perron, currently back for his third different stint with the team after signing in St. Louis in free agency.

Unfortunately for the Blues, they announced on Thursday that Perron has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury after missing each of the team’s past three games.

This is a tough break for the Blues because Perron has been on a white-hot tear for more than a month now having recorded at least a point in each of his past 13 games, and 14 out of his past 15. That stretch also helped him turn his season around after being one of the many players on the roster that slumped out of the gate.

As of Thursday he is the Blues’ second-leading scorer, tied for second in goals, and is one of only three players on the team that has eclipsed even the 30-point mark this season (Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the other two). So he’s not only one of the team’s leading producers, he is one of the few players on the team that is doing anything offensively.

Offense was a huge problem for the Blues a year ago as they finished 24th in the league in goals score. That was the single biggest reason they fell short of the playoffs by just a single point and their response was to go all in on adding offense over the summer. They traded for O’reilly and went big in free agency by signing Perron, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon.

The results have been mixed at this point.

On one hand, O’Reilly and Perron have given the Blues exactly what they needed and expected. But the rest of the team — including some of their top returning players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn — has badly regressed and as of Thursday the team is in a similar position offensively (21st in the league in goals per game).

At this point it is not yet known how long Perron will be sidelined, but their upcoming schedule is especially difficult. After playing Columbus on Saturday, the Blues at Florida, at Tampa Bay, and then have a back-to-back situation with the Nashville Predators all over the next week.

An already offensively starved team having to go through that stretch without one of the few productive players on the roster this season is going to have its hands full when it comes to staying in that playoff race.

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.