Okay, by now we've all professed our amazement at the Blues' run to the playoffs -- their first postseason appearance in five years. They went 25-9-7 in the second half to secure a berth, and 8-1-1 over their last 10 games down the stretch to not only get into contention, but end up sixth in the Western Conference. This from a team that was in last place as late as mid-February.
That surge is reminiscent of the Washington Capitals' charge to the postseason last year. But the differences in mounting such a stirring push are more intriguing. Whereas the Caps changed coaches by bringing
By contrast, the Blues kept their veteran leader,
Keeping Tkachuk sent a message of belief -- that management viewed the team's stretch of fine play as real and the playoff race was worth pursuing. That decision galvanized the young Blues and gave them confidence that they were indeed on the right path.
Mason's situation was not as clear-cut in that he played the final 38 games in the aftermath of the Blues sending veteran starter
Talk about taking advantage of an opportunity. Sure, the organization gets full marks for acting with authority and clarity in dealing with Legace's malingering, but it is Mason who deserves all the credit for performing so consistently well in the second half of the season. That is especially true since there was no evidence that he was the man for the job. Yet, he suited up each and every game in a stunning turnaround that matched his team: 24-8-6 as the default go-to guy. Mason finished tied for ninth in goals-against (2.41) and eleventh in save percentage (.916) in the entire NHL.
Quite a feat for Mason, who turns 33 in a week. His revival is maybe even more amazing than that of the Blues. Of course, the two are intimately intertwined. So too, though, is the Blues' excellence on special teams under coach Murray. They were third best in the league when down a man and eighth overall on the power play. Only the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild finished in the top ten in both specialty categories.
How else do you explain a team that made the playoffs when its leading scorer (
The answer is that you don't, really. Numbers hardly do the Blues' saga justice. Not when a last place team looks inward while led by a taskmaster coach, a free spirit veteran, an afterthought netminder, and a cast of really promising young players, and comes together.
Details? Forget them. For now, enjoy the Blues' playoff appearance after an improbable run -- the kind of story that makes sports so compelling.