St. Louis — Jaden Schwartz knew there would be a silver lining during his struggles in the regular season.
The St. Louis forward found it the last two games of the first round of the playoffs.
Schwartz scored three times and Jordan Binnington stopped 18 shots to help the Blues beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 in Game 6 of their series Saturday night to advance to the second round.
Schwartz scored just 11 times during the regular season and went through a frustrating 22-game scoreless drought from Dec. 20 to Feb. 12.
“Sometimes when pucks aren’t going in, the net doesn’t seem as big,” Schwartz said. “When you get a bounce, or a break, it seems like you can carry that over. Everyone will tell you that confidence in this, and any sport, is big.”
Schwartz has four goals in the playoffs – the Blues’ last four, starting the tiebreaking tally with 15 seconds left in the 3-2 win in Game 5. That goal helped set the stage for Saturday’s effort.
“We did a good job of carrying that over,” Schwartz said. “We were aggressive today and we kind of played without fear.”
The Blues became the first home team to win in the series, and advanced to the second round for the third time in four years. St. Louis will next face the winner of the Dallas-Nashville series, which the Stars lead 3-2.
Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien scored for Winnipeg, which tried to rally after falling behind 3-0 early in the third period. Connor Hellebuyck finished with 33 saves.
“It’s hard to say what went wrong,” Hellebuyck said. “We really shouldn’t point fingers and try to find blame. That’s a good team over there and they played well. You could tell they wanted it.”
St. Louis outscored Winnipeg 6-2 over the final four periods of the series.
“It’s tough, tough to swallow,” Little said. “We had really high expectations. It’s disappointing right now.”
Binnington began the season as a backup for the Blues’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio. He stopped 33 successive shots after giving up two first-period goals in Game 5.
The 29-year-old rookie goalie appreciated Schwartz’s ability to stay the course.
“What a boss,” Binnington said. “He’s playing great. And his beard looks pretty good on him too.”
Schwartz tallied just 23 seconds into the contest on a pass from Brayden Schenn. It was the third-fastest playoff goal in franchise history and the quickest since Brett Hull scored in Game 3 of a first-round playoff series with Vancouver on May 11, 1995.
“That got everybody buzzing,” St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said.
It was also the sixth goal scored in the first minute of a game in the postseason, marking the first time in NHL history that has happened in the opening round.
Schwartz pushed the lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal off a wrist shot with 7:24 left in the second period and completed the natural hat trick early in the third. It was the Blues first postseason hat trick since Vladimir Tarasenko scored three times on April 18, 2015, against Minnesota.
The Blues had the fewest points in the league on Jan. 2 and appeared set to miss the playoffs for the second season in a row.
But some soul searching helped turn things around according to Pietrangelo, the team captain.
“We just kept pushing and looked hard in the mirror,” Pietrangelo said. “We had a lot of honest conversation.”
Byfuglien jumped on the rebound of a shot by Kevin Hayes with 7:43 left in the contest, and Little pulled Winnipeg within one with 37 seconds remaining and Hellebuyck off for an extra skater.
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Dallas 5, (at) Nashville 3: Alexander Radulov and Jason Dickinson each scored twice to help Dallas to push Nashville to the brink of elimination.
The Stars came into the postseason as the West’s first wild card and are up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series over the two-time defending Central Division champs. Dallas will have a chance Monday night at home in Game 6 to join Colorado and Columbus as the latest lower seed coming through in the opening round.
Tyler Seguin had a goal and an assist, and Jamie Benn had three assists as the Stars scored at least five goals in back-to-back playoff games for the ninth time in franchise history, and the first since Games 3 and 4 of the 1991 conference finals when this team was still in Minnesota.
Ben Bishop, named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy during the game, made 30 saves for the win.
Rocco Grimaldi, Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne finished with 21 saves. The Predators lost back-to-back playoff games for the first time since Games 5 and 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
(At) Washington 6, Carolina 0: Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and two assists, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two assists and Braden Holtby stopped all 30 shots he faced to lead the Capitals to a win over the Hurricanes in Game 5..
Washington has a 3-2 series lead and can advance with a win at Carolina in Game 6 on Monday night.
After scoring five goals in 20 games during the Capitals’ Cup run a year ago that included missing four games with two fractures in his right pointer finger, Backstrom has that many already in these playoffs. Ovechkin assisted on Backstrom’s second goal and Tom Wilson’s on the power play and added the exclamation point in the rout with a power-play goal in the third.
Lighting up Carolina’s Petr Mrazek fired up the crowd and gave Washington the lead in the series back after laying an egg in losses in Game 3 and Game 4 on the road. Much of the credit belongs to the penalty kill that made easy work of all five Carolina power plays, including three in quick succession in the second period.
Holtby made six saves on the penalty kill and drew chants of his name from the crowd that was in a chanting mood all night. “D-S-P! D-S-P!” roared throughout the arena to salute 2018 playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly, who was playing his first game with the Capitals since Feb. 17 after spending the past two months in the minors in a salary-cap move.
Smith-Pelly filled the spot vacated by T.J. Oshie, who suffered an upper-body injury late in Game 4 and is expected to be out long-term. When the game was out of hand, fans chanted “T.J. Oshie!” to honor a popular player who was a significant part of the franchise’s first title.
Most importantly, Brett Connolly scored his first goal of the series and Nic Dowd scored on a penalty shot to give Washington the secondary scoring it had been lacking even with Oshie in the lineup.
Mrazek allowed six goals on 28 shots but was largely hung out to dry. Washington went 2 for 3 on the power play, while Carolina came up empty on several opportunities that could have changed the course of the game. Instead, the Capitals moved one step closer to facing former coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders.