Blues surge into first round vs. Jets
The St. Louis Blues had one of the ultimate midseason turnarounds in NHL history.
On Jan. 2, the Blues were last in the NHL (15-18-4), had fired head coach Mike Yeo six weeks earlier, replacing him with Craig Berube, and seemed destined for a high-chance lottery spot in the NHL Draft.
Instead, thanks to an incredible second half of the season, the Blues kick off the first round of the NHL playoffs on Wednesday at the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets were a preseason Stanley Cup pick, yet both teams finished with 99 points.
"You look statistically in the back half, they're an elite team in the NHL," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said. "We've never played that team. We played them in 2018 and they were a different team."
Winnipeg won three of four meetings, all before January. The Blues (45-28-9), who posted an 11-game winning streak in January and February, also won nine of their final 12 regular-season games.
"We've been playing playoff hockey for a long time now just to clinch and get in," Blues forward Brayden Schenn told NHL.com.
"This group has come a long way, come together. We're enjoying playing for one another right now. Obviously winning makes it a whole lot easier now. We feel like we've got a good team in here and hoping to go on a run in the playoffs."
The Jets (47-30-5) have home-ice advantage and claimed the season series, but they struggled in the final few weeks, posting 2-4-1 mark to finish the season.
"We know we've got our work cut out for us," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. "At this time of year, regardless of who you're playing, it's going to be really tough. We have a lot of excitement about what's going to be a great series."
The Jets will receive a big boost for the series opener. Defenseman Josh Morrissey is due back after missing the final 20 games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. Winnipeg also went without Dustin Byfuglien for 34 of 39 games before returning from injury on March 30, so its defensive core has been shored up greatly.
While Byfuglien had five games to get back into the swing, Morrissey must jump into the postseason, so there may be an adjustment.
"When you get on the ice in Game 1 of the playoffs, the emotion goes to another level that you haven't seen all year," Morrissey said. "That adrenaline's firing. So I think it'll be more so trying to keep it simple, not trying to do too much. Just try to get back into the rhythm of things as fast as possible."
While much of the turnaround in St. Louis can be credited to rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who took the reins in January and posted an incredible 24-5-1 mark with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, the Blues became a well-rounded team.
"Where we were and where we are now, those guys deserve a ton of credit for the turnaround," Berube said. "They did a great job. Great leadership from our leaders. A lot of character in our dressing room, and it came through. We needed everybody, and everybody helped."
--Field Level Media
Updated April 10, 2019