Schwartz says ‘thinking less’ helped him shine with playoff goals for St. Louis

ST. LOUIS—One of the delights of the Blues’ Stanley Cup final journey has been the unexpected twists and turns along the way.

The unexpected emergence of Oskar Sundqvist, for example. Or the totally unexpected emergence of Jordan Binnington.

Craig Berube’s rise from interim head coach — with emphasis on the “interim” — to Jack Adams Award finalist as NHL coach of the year.

How about the fall and rise of Jay Bouwmeester as a bedrock of one of the NHL’s top defences?

OK, one more. How about Jaden Schwartz, the man who went from regular-season dud to playoff stud.

Ryan O’Reilly undoubtedly is the team’s unofficial MVP for the regular season. Through three rounds of the playoffs, the Blues’ post-season MVP has to be Schwartz.

Entering the Stanley Cup final, most observers consider Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask the favourite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL’s playoff MVP. But Schwartz is right there in the discussion, particularly now that it’s golfing season for Logan Couture and the San Jose Sharks.

By now, most ardent Blues fans are familiar with his numbers. Schwartz has more playoff goals (12) in 19 games than he had in 69 regular-season contests (11). He has two post-season hat tricks, and has scored four goals in each of the Blues’ post-season series — against Winnipeg, Dallas, and San Jose.

His Game 5 winning goal in the midst of the Winnipeg Whiteout with 15 seconds left in regulation rates as one of the most dramatic goals in Blues post-season history. He batted that one from a couple of feet off the ice into the net.

Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck referred to it as one of the Blues’ “lucky pinballs” that night.

In any event, Schwartz is just one goal behind the Golden Brett — Brett Hull — for most goals in a single Blues post-season. Starting with Game 1 Monday of the Stanley Cup final against Boston, Schwartz has at least four more games to tie or break Hull’s post-season record of 13 goals, set in 1990.

How to explain Schwartz’s amazing turnaround? Perhaps defencemen Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo deserve “assists” here.

“We went down to Mexico for our little break, and it just kind of cleared his mind,” Edmundson said. “He came back here and he was lights out since.”

Schwartz had only three goals for the season when the Blues took their end-of-January break for the all-star game and bye period. Players scattered, and Edmundson, Bortuzzo and Schwartz headed to Mexico.

Schwartz had eight goals in 33 regular-season games after the break — not an explosion, but still a 20-goal pace. Then came 12 goals in 19 playoff games. An explosion.

“He’s definitely had it in him,” Edmundson said. “He was just beating himself up a bit too much. So once he got a couple goals, he’s just kept on rolling. And to do this in the playoffs is pretty exciting. It’s good to see a guy like that be successful.”

Schwartz is one of the most intense Blues. Because of that, he brings new meaning to the expression associated with pressing hockey players “squeezing the stick too tight.”

“We have a fun dressing room, so guys are trying to loosen him up a bit, and you can definitely tell he’s loosened up now,” Edmundson said. “He’s just having fun playing hockey. That’s the best part of this. We’re all just having fun playing hockey.”

So what happened in Mexico at the end of January to clear Schwartz’s mind?

“Just the sun and beaches,” Edmundson said. “A couple cocktails. That’s about it.”

Just as a struggling player might overthink things, Schwartz sounds like he doesn’t want to overthink what’s now going right.

“I’m gonna have to be here for a while to explain that all,” he said Tuesday. “Just working, thinking less. We can get into that for another time (on) where I was earlier in the year.”

But Schwartz also added: “I think confidence in any sport is huge for your mindset and how you feel going into the game.”

Schwartz’s confidence had to take a quantum leap with that Game 5 score against Winnipeg. Beginning with that goal, he has scored all 12 of his post-season goals in the Blues’ last 15 games.

“I honestly think that (goal) definitely got his confidence back, for sure,” Edmundson said. “Just that line in general has been playing unbelievable. So we’ve been feeding off them.”

Schwartz was reunited with his friend and fellow Saskatchewan native Brayden Schenn late in that Winnipeg game.

Late in the Round 2 series against Dallas, Berube put the old band completely back together, adding Vladimir Tarasenko to the line with Schwartz and Schenn. Members of that line have scored nine goals with nine assists in the eight games since being reformed.

“Obviously, we’ve seen that going back a year, two years,” Berube said. “If you remember 30 games in (last season), they were one of the best lines in the National Hockey League. They’ve been really good at times going forward and putting it all together, and they’re definitely doing a good job now.

“They’re working hard together, and when they’re working hard together and they’re doing things together out there — connected — they’re a real good line.”

Berube would like four more wins’ worth of play like that.

Then, and only then, it could be time once again for Mexico.

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