Schwartz, Tarasenko have Blues close to Cup Final
By JOE HARRIS
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Jaden Schwartz is on a scoring run that has the St. Louis Blues dreaming big.
Schwartz's hat trick in Game 5 on Sunday helped give the Blues a 3-2 series lead against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference final and set the single-season franchise record for playoff wins.
The Blues could advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 when they host Game 6 Tuesday night.
"It's probably tough to put into words," Schwartz said. "It's something that everyone's worked for and dreamed about. You don't want to look too far ahead. We all know how important and how hard that last win's going to be. It would be a dream come true."
Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have played huge roles in the Blues' playoff success. Just not necessarily in the way that was expected.
Tarasenko has come up with more big assists than goals against the Sharks.
Meanwhile, Schwartz has found a scoring touch that eluded him during the regular season. After scoring 11 goals in 69 regular-season games, Schwartz has 12 goals in 18 playoff games.
"He's obviously a tenacious player, a hard-working player," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I know, goal-wise, he didn't have a good regular season, but the work ethic was there and other things besides not producing with the goals.
"He's a 200-foot player for us and he's around the net for us, that's where he scores. His hard work, being relentless and staying with it is paying off."
Schwartz's scoring run began on a quick pass from Tyler Bozak with 15 seconds left in regulation to snap a 2-2 tie in Game 5 in the first round against Winnipeg. He followed that up with a hat trick in Game 6 to send the Blues to the second round.
Schwartz is the first player to have two hat tricks in the same playoffs since Johan Franzen did it for Detroit in 2008 and he is the first to do it for the Blues.
Not bad for a guy who went 23 games without a goal during the regular season.
"He's obviously been kind of our engine and a guy that's scored huge goals for us throughout every series," Bozak said.
"Pucks weren't going in as much as he probably wanted in the regular season, but he was still playing really good hockey I thought and getting a lot of chances. And obviously what he's done in this playoffs so far has been incredible. We're pretty lucky to have him and we know he's just going to keep getting better and keep doing those things for us."
Tarasenko is the only player to get a point in every game of the Western Conference final. But just two of his seven points in the series are goals.
Instead he has become a potent playmaker, setting up Bozak's eventual game-winning goal in Game 4 and assisting on two of Schwartz's goals in Game 5.
"Every time he gets the puck he puts them on edge," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "Having such a shot like he does, teams are scared when he gets the puck and obviously they maybe will overcompensate for that and other things come available. Having played with him throughout the year, you see how dangerous he is whether it's taking that shot or just being that threat that opens so much up."
Tarasenko's unselfish play was evident on Schwartz's third goal. Carrying the puck on the power play, he could have taken a shot. But with San Jose playing the shot, he found Schwartz cutting towards the net for a one-timer into a wide-open net.
"Vlady is a good passer, he makes plays," Berube said. "He's got his head up a lot, sees the ice well. His hard work is paying off. He's working hard without the puck, and he's a powerful guy."
Tarasenko has led the Blues in goals in each of the past five seasons. Though he has taken a back seat to Schwartz in goal-scoring, the Blues are thriving in the postseason as never before from his playmaking ability.
And they are one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup, which many thought would have been impossible on Jan. 3 when the Blues were at the bottom of the NHL standings.
"Everyone knows we have a lot of work to do and we're going to get their best game," Schwartz said. "They're going to have the most desperation they've had in this series. We'll enjoy it tonight, but we know there's a lot of work yet."
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