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The Stanley Cup playoffs are done. The 2017-2018 season is over. By all accounts, watching TJ Oshie and Lars Eller each taking a victory lap has the Show Me state crying, “When’s it our turn?” Even for me, the ever hopeful optimist had a hard time swallowing a “come from behind defeat” against the Chicago Blackhawks, and then a dismal routing in Game 82 by the team owned by a bridge-burner.
So, where do we go from here?
The Blues suffered from a “4H Problem” of their own making in 2017-2018 that needs to be corrected. From my perspective, some reasons why the Blues failed to make the playoffs had to do with “head, heart, hustle and hangry”, the four ingredients needed to make a playoff team.
Have you ever been in a situation where you see someone attractive across the room, and you want to go over there and introduce yourself, maybe strike up a conversation, but instead of actually doing it, you start thinking of every way the conversation could go, or if they actually like you or not? And by the time you stop arguing with yourself of either how stupid or brilliant you will be in asking said person out, they already left the party?
Sometimes, it’s not just knowing the play. It’s feeling the play. It’s knowing where your linemates are going to be, developing chemistry that goes beyond practicing a repeated pattern. Plays don’t happen on the whiteboard as pretty as they look. Sometimes, they flesh out organically, on the spur of the moment, and taking the bull by the horns isn’t going to happen if you’re thinking about making something happen.
Two of the best goals I ever saw this year were Brayden Schenn’s, and both against the Rangers. First: when he took a puck behind the net, and whacked it into the back of Lundqvist; it bounced into the net. Second, his 3-on-3 whip-around wrist shot in the 4-3 OT win in 3/2018. Both plays were reactionary. Both were hail marys. Both worked because Schenn did not think: he just played.
Hand-in-hand with the head is the heart. Many players were accused of not caring enough during the season to warrant the playoffs. I don’t know any of them personally, but I know they cared. That wasn’t the problem. The problem is caring so much that you make stupid mistakes by going on raw emotion, or you think so much that when it’s time to feel, you’re in your head and not your heart. Rushing in to defend Scottie Upshall after he was hit by Luke Schenn during the STL-ARI game was a shining moment for Chris Thorburn, as well as the fight in Vladimir Tarasenko’s Gordie Howe hat trick against Boston’s Matt Benning in 11/2017. Taking too much time to figure out how to perform an epic shot on a power play? Nope. Shoot the puck. Don’t think so much and go with your gut on it, whether it is to pass or to shoot it, and remember: dirty goals and pretty goals count the same way. Get dirty. Get going.
EVERYDAY WE’RE HUSTLING
Bruins are fast. Knights are fast. Lightning are… wait for it… fast. And definitely north-south. Speed, combined with power and agility, can do wonders for the roster. Colton Parayko can move up on the play and then fall back to defense with ease; he’s so fast that if he wasn’t 6’5 and over 200, you’d never even notice he left the blueline! Jaden Schwartz is built like a cruise missile: small, able to wiggle into corners, but strong, powerful, swift, and deadly accurate. He was voted 2nd most underrated player in the league; he should have been 1st. Take some time to add swiftness to get up and down the ice efficiently, maneuverability a must, and you’re set.
How bad do you want it? How long can you go being hungry that you begin to get upset about it, and start playing with an edge? How much will it take so that you keep coming back for more? That’s called “killer instinct”: you want it so bad that you won’t just finish an opponent, but crush him beyond hope of recovery. What will it take to make you so hungry for a Cup that you get mad about not having one, and do something about it?
The Blues have been hungry. But, I can’t remember the last time where they were hangry. They need to find that fire. They need to do whatever it takes. No excuses.
If they solve all four problems, they will be unbeatable. New blood will help. Leaders stepping up will help. Drinking the Kool-Aid and buying in will help. And then… then… well, there just might be a parade down Market Street next year! We can only hope.