The phrase ‘must-win’ is overused in sports, but anyone would agree that going down 0-2 to the Nashville Predators before heading into their building for Games 3 and 4 was not a scenario the Blues desired.
But was Game 2 one the Blues absolutely had to have? It depends who you ask.
“I don’t think we did, and that’s why we won, to be honest.” Jake Allen said. “All playoffs long, we haven’t really gone into a game saying ‘oh, we have to win this game.’ We just stuck with the same mindset, and got the job done.”
While the tremendous Blues goaltender chose a more pragmatic approach, defenseman Colton Parayko wasn’t shy to admit the gravity of the circumstances, and the significance of Game 2 toward the outcome of the series.
“Yeah, 100-percent,” Parayko said. “Obviously it was a game we knew we had to win going in. I thought it was a great job by our team coming back, down 2-1 and coming back again to score two more in the third. It was a huge performance.”
Whether a must-win or not, the Blues did find a way to grind out Game 2 in dramatic fashion, dropping the Predators 3-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center. After a bit of a relapse in a Game 1 loss, Allen was superb for St. Louis in Friday’s win, especially as the Blues managed a six-on-five onslaught in the waning moments of the third period.
Though the Blues would have been lost without Allen’s contributions, it was the production of another player–on the offensive side of the ice–that was the primary force behind the Note’s big victory.
Vladimir Tarasenko earned first-star honors for his two-goal effort, truly asserting his presence for the first time this postseason to lead the Blues to an even 1-1 series heading back to Nashville. Tarasenko was notably absent from the goal column of the box scores during the Blues series win over the Wild in round one, but has battled through this lull as any leader should.
“It’s the way he’s fighting through it," Mike Yeo said. “You see him on the ice at the end of the game with the goalie pulled. You see him diving on the ice to break up a play. He’s doing things that winners do.”
It’s one matter to consistently provide the ‘little things’ as Yeo described, but it’s another to knock in goals–and knocking in goals is where Tarasenko makes his hay. For the Blues to be successful, they need him to play the primary goal-scoring role; Allen’s otherworldly opening round allowed the Blues to get away with a quiet Tarasenko, but as the playoffs progress, St. Louis needs him at his best.
Yeo has no doubts about the playoff pedigree of No. 91, and the Blues coach appreciates the way Tarasenko has handled the pressure associated with the expectations that surround him.
“He’s a guy that, what he’s done in the playoffs speaks for itself,” Yeo said. “It’s tougher–it’s not tougher, but it’s tough on a guy like that when you have to answer the questions, ‘you’re not scoring,’ and obviously the pressures that you have to deal with, the match ups that you face, the focus that the other team puts on you… It’s a mental toughness that he’s been battling through real hard and real impressively and obviously did a great job for us tonight.”
Tarasenko’s first goal came during a five-minute power play after Vernon Fiddler committed a major penalty with a hit to the knee of Colton Parayko late in the first period. It snapped a streak of 63 consecutive scoreless power plays in the playoffs for Tarasenko, dating back to last season’s first round series against the Blackhawks.
His second of the game proved the eventual game-winner, as a slick kick pass from Joel Edmundson set up the chance. Tarasenko wasted no time, sweeping a quick one-time strike before Pekka Rinne knew what hit him–or rather, before he knew what slid right through his legs.
“He’s got his stick going now,” Allen said of Tarasenko’s outburst, his sixth career multi-goal playoff game. “I think he was a little frustrated with himself in the first series; he’s a premier goal scorer and to not be able to score in the first few games was tough on him. I think he took it to heart, and I know he’s been practicing really hard the last couple days, shooting pucks hard in practice. It’s paying off.”
The Blues weren’t the better team in each game of their series win over the Wild–Jake Allen made the difference, and practically won the series on his own. If Vladimir Tarasenko goes out of his mind for a few more games against Nashville, he has the ability to do the exact same thing.
If Friday was just a glimpse of Tarasenko finally settling into his zone, the Predators had better brace themselves for what's to come.