If you had told a Blues fan back in August that Vladimir Sobotka would score St. Louis’ first goal of the 2017 playoffs, he or she might have bought it. Sure, the Blues were no lock to reach the postseason at that time–replacing the production of some key players that departed through free agency wouldn't be easy–but it was certainly conceivable that St. Louis would be a playoff team. Sobotka was slated to buy out of his KHL contract and rejoin the Blues after a couple seasons away, and he would represent an important piece to the puzzle. The prediction wouldn’t have been that far-fetched.
Had you told a Blues fan the same some time in late January, he or she would have laughed right in your face. The Blues were in the midst of a tailspin that would lead to the firing of Ken Hitchcock. The team’s poor play would surely turn them into sellers at the trade deadline, so a return to the playoffs seemed unlikely. Oh, and by the way, Sobotka never showed up–he was still plying his craft over in Russia.
For a variety of reasons, the scenario just wasn’t going to happen.
And yet, here we are.
In the final hour of the regular season, Sobotka rejoined the Blues–for real this time. Wednesday night in Minnesota, he scored the first goal for the Blues in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What's crazier, is that one could competently argue Sobotka wasn’t even the most unlikely goal-scorer of the night. The author of only four career regular season goals–and one postseason tally–entering Wednesday’s game, defenseman Joel Edmundson sent the Blues to a 2-1 Game 1 road victory over the Wild in overtime. How in the world did they pull this off?
Edmundson flashed a grin after burying the crucial game-winner, but didn’t even raise an arm in celebration.
“I mean, I’ve done it once before in the playoffs but it wasn’t OT,” Edmundson told Darren Pang on the Fox Sports Midwest postgame show. “I don’t even know what happened to be honest. I just had a wide-open net, and I guess the celly wasn’t there.”
Mike Yeo also weighed in on the celebration–or lack thereof.
“Well, the way he celebrated it looked like he wasn’t too surprised,” Yeo said. “I thought he had a phenomenal game, though. Happy to see him get rewarded.”
Blues fans were certainly celebrating a win that feels like it never should have happened. Take the two unlikely goal-scorers and throw in the fact that the Wild doubled the Blues shots on goal–52-26–and the Blues’ win was the dictionary definition of stealing one.
The man who deserves all credit for the unlikely victory looks like a completely different player from the dark days he endured earlier in the season. Jake Allen was remarkable for St. Louis. Facing the third-most shots in a playoff game in Blues history, Allen’s play was the sole reason the Blues even made it to overtime in the first place.
“I don’t know that I really can (describe it). Phenomenal performance,” Yeo said of Allen. “That’s about all I can say. Against a team that really challenges you–not only the quality scoring chances, but the pressure at the net. The way he controlled situations, shots, rebounds, the puck–it was a real impressive performance.”
Allen nearly carried the Blues to a regulation win before Zach Parise buried a masterful redirect in front of the net to tie the game 1-1 with less than 23 seconds to play in the third period. The Blues found a way to bounce back from the moment to keep the Wild off the board in overtime long enough to strike for the win.
“It was a little deflating there for the last twenty seconds, they made a nice play,” Allen told Pang on the Fox Sports Midwest postgame. “You know, the guys stayed positive. We knew were going to get a chance. We had a chance on a PP, we killed one off, and then it’s always dirty goals.”
Edmundson’s goal was dirty, but not because of anything particularly gritty he did. Edmundson admitted that the puck just happened to land on his stick out of the madness–all he did was punch it home. The guy who has to be the best player on the ice for the Blues to have a chance in this series, Vladimir Tarasenko, created the goal by sticking with the play, carrying the puck down the right side of the offensive zone. He would not be denied by Mikko Koivu, and forced the puck through the front of the crease, landing it on Edmundson’s tape.
The rest receives its rightful spot in Blues history.
The Blues weren’t perfect in Game 1–far from it. But winning without their best game will go a long way toward finding the gumption to pull of the upset in the seven-game series.
“I think we were guilty of playing a little bit safe tonight,” Yeo said. “That’s a good team, too. We’re in a tough building, we’re in Game 1, and it’s a good team. We know that we have to be better next game, but it was nice to get the win today.”
To pull an upset in a playoff series, you have to be able to steal one–to win a game that you shouldn’t have. By all logic and reason, the Blues shouldn’t have won Game 1–and they did it anyway.
Steal Game 2 on Friday, and suddenly, the path to stealing much more becomes crystal clear.