St. Louis Blues: Can They Finally Bring Home the Cup?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another day, another brilliant new writer for hockey fans to enjoy! Our latest recruit is Micki Holley, a resident of St Louis, Missouri, USA. An experienced author with regular contributions published at Yahoo Sports, not to mention her own blog and several other projects on the go, Micki will surely bring a unique voice to our little corner of the internet. Primarily focusing on the St Louis Blues, we are excited to bring her on board at Ice Nation UK!

The Blues are favourites to win the cup in many experts' eyes. (Image courtesy of bleedinblue.com.)

The Blues are favourites to win the cup in many experts’ eyes. (Image courtesy of bleedinblue.com)

It’s official. The St. Louis Blues will be making another playoff run; their fourth attempt at claiming the cup in the last nine seasons. Now their focus is on getting home ice advantage through the playoffs and if they keep steam rolling other teams as they have done all season, it should be achieved with no problems.

Breezing their way through the playoffs to win the ultimate prize will be a completely different story though as they are not mentally prepared for such a feat – the expectations thrust onto their shoulders may prove too much for them to handle.

The Blues have been hunting Lord Stanley’s Cup since the inception of the team in 1967. In the NHL there are 11 teams that have never won the cup, of those, there are 6 teams who have been to the finals but fell short. The Blues are one of those teams.

Many analysts and sports enthusiasts are predicting that this is finally the season for the Blues to win it all. Looking over the roster and the stats for this season, it is indisputable that the talent and numbers are there. However, there is the problem of their nemeses – teams from the West coast. Can the Blues mentally power through a series against a West coast team during the playoffs? They have not done so in recent years. The Blues can also become their own worst enemies during the playoffs by second guessing themselves or letting their emotions rule the game.

Many predicted from the start of the season that the Blues would become a power-house in the Central Division and that they would finally grace the city of St. Louis with the Stanley Cup. I have been skeptical of these predictions simply because of their past performances in the playoffs. The team as a whole is young and resilient, but past disappointments seem to carry over from previous campaigns. These disappointments will more than likely cause them to implode and fall to pieces before it is all said and done.

The players are hungry for the Cup, but are they hungry enough? Self-doubt after crushing losses will be the true test of whether or not this team can rebound and take what they have worked so hard for. Players wearing their emotions on their sleeves will also affect the outcome of the playoffs.

St. Louis acquired Sabres star Ryan Miller before the trade deadline in a blockbuster deal. (Image courtesy of ftw.usatoday.com)

St. Louis acquired Sabres star Ryan Miller before the trade deadline in a blockbuster deal. (Image courtesy of ftw.usatoday.com)

The fans grew to a frenzied state over the possibility of bringing home the Stanley Cup when Ryan Miller was acquired, along with Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres for Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart. While Miller is proving that he is a solid goaltender, he is not a magician. He has also not been truly tested yet in a Blues sweater. It will take solid defense plus stellar offense to pull this one out of the hat. It is feasible, but in my opinion, unless the team can mentally move on from past defeats and set aside vendettas from past slights, it will not happen. Once it is decided who the Blues meet in the first round, the real challenge begins for the team and it will be interesting to see how they prepare themselves to overcome those doubts and frustrations.

Miller’s ability to step up and take responsibility will also affect the team and their ability to recover from any situation that could possibly defeat them. Miller is known to pass the buck when it comes to taking the blame; however, he is one of the first to pat himself on the back when things go right. It is doubtful that the 33-year-old goaltender will change his ways simply because he is with a new team. Back-up goaltender Brian Elliot has the ability to be solid throughout the playoffs if given the chance – he has shown his capabilities in keeping his head in the game and the pucks out of the net. His shut-out record shows this as he is tied for second place in franchise history with Glenn Hall.

Right now the Blues look like the team to beat, but the same was true last year and their structure ended up collapsing, resulting in them being ousted early in the playoffs. Team captain David Backes will do everything in his power to carry the team as he has in the past, but all that responsibility could come at a price. He is red-hot right now, but his stamina has not really been tested. It is doubtful that he will be able to keep things going throughout the duration of the playoffs. That being said, can others step up beside him and help him carry the team? Of course they can. They have done so all season long, but will they be able to do so when it really counts? It is doubtful in my mind that they are mentally prepared to go all the way.

T.J. Oshie has garnered plenty of attention with his play this year, only enhanced after scoring USA's shootout winner against Russia at Sochi. (Image courtesy of anivalof.hostyou.ir)

T.J. Oshie has garnered plenty of attention with his play this year, only enhanced after scoring USA’s shootout winner against Russia at Sochi. (Image courtesy of anivalof.hostyou.ir)

Two players just recently became first-time fathers and anyone who has ever had a newborn in their home for an extended stay understands the mental and physical drain that these two are experiencing. T.J. Oshie and Maxim LaPierre will have a harder time than their fellow teammates as they may not have their minds fully on the game or the obstacles that are coming for the Blues. Vladimir Taresenko also needs to get healthy and contribute some of that Russian pizzazz he is so well known for. He is a young player who can exhibit strong leadership on the ice. I mean no disrespect to Dmitij Jaskin who has stepped in and contributed his all to the team, but Taresenko is a more seasoned player who works well with his line-mates and has playoff experience at this level.

They are a young team who have been hyped up all season long as the team to beat. There is an air of cockiness surrounding the team that many misconstrue as confidence. Hopefully Head Coach Ken Hitchcock can rein them in and tamp down some of that cockiness prior to the start of the playoffs. Hitchcock is a veteran coach who already has a Stanley Cup under his belt and he works very hard with his players. However, even a remarkable coaching staff cannot soothe the raw emotions that surface during a game or reel in players looking for retribution during the heat of a contest.

If the Blues can come together as a cohesive team, set aside pre-conceived ideals and expectations as well as leave their past grievances at the door they do indeed have a great shot at winning it all. That is a very tall order to fill however and it is very possible history will repeat itself, leaving the Blues out in the cold yet again.

Follow Micki on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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