March 29, 2009
There are plenty of good reasons to pull for the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Like the fact that they've overcome a calamitous season of injuries that have spanned from their best young defenseman getting mauled by a demonic golf cart to their starting goaltender getting hexed by America's most famous hockey mom.
Like the fact that the Blues were so concerned about fan attention earlier this season, they were allowing fans to "name their own price" for tickets and were giving away mortgage payments in contests.
Like the fact that this year was at best going to be a mulligan, and at worst going to be Coach Andy Murray's swan song.
But the best reason is named TJ Oshie, the 22-year-old former North Dakota standout who is part of a generation of highly skilled pains-in-the-ass (see Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows) who play the game with reckless abandon and tireless enthusiasm. In the last week, Oshie's had perhaps his greatest offensive and physical moments as a pro; coming at a time when his play is leading the Blues to their unlikely, yet extraordinarily possible, storybook finish.
We knew we liked Oshie earlier this season when he let the world know how much he hated his virtual self -- or at least what EA Sports decided he was:
"When I play NHL '09, I play as the Blues and my guy is just terrible," Oshie said, laughing. "I feel embarrassed when he's out there. He's slow, every time he gets touched he falls down."
Here's Oshie and teammate Patrik Berglund playing some NHL 09:
It would appear Oshie has dedicated himself to proving the EA Sports bio-mechanics wrong. In 50 games, he has 12 goals and 22 assists, playing 16:42 on average a night for 23.8 shifts. He's seeing time on special teams, with 11 power-play points and four shorthanded points. But most of all, he's the embodiment of the Blues' work ethic: The kind of tenacious whose name you hear on the play by play, even if he's not hitting the score sheet.
But when he does hit the score sheet ... goodness. This goal against the Vancouver Canucks is clearly one of the best of the season:
Oshie said he had done the move before in college. (And who hasn't recycled a move they perfected in college, right fellas?)
Things got spirited in the third after Oshie knocked Columbus' Rick Nash flying with a hit less than five minutes in. Oshie wound up in a scuffle with several Blue Jackets, and the Blues wound up with a power play. But the Blues Jackets wound up getting a spark.
Nash thought Oshie's shot was a clean hit. Hitchcock said it was a charge. Oshie, who is a hekuva a player, stepped out of the penalty box and skated 100-plus feet to hit Nash. The contact was definitely shoulder to shoulder.
"Any time one of your top players or captain gets hit it seems to boost everyone else up," Nash said. "It lit our fire and it lit my fire. I'm kind of glad he did it."
Granted, it was a game-changing hit in a negative way for the Blues, who had to scramble for a shootout victory; but it was an example of the kind of hockey Oshie plays, and can continue to play in the postseason.
The Blues have 81 points -- tied with the Edmonton Oilers, one point behind the Nashville Predators and one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks. They face the Blue Jackets again today in Columbus, the first part of a do-or-die five-game road trip for the young team. It isn't going to be easy, but the playoffs are still more than just an outside shot. (And a nostalgic Norris Division series against the Detroit Red Wings would be pretty killer from a puckhead standpoint.)
While the questions about this Blues' season will be answered soon, St. Louis fans are just starting to ask them about Oshie based on the promise of his play.
St. Louis Game Time, which called TJ "one of the most anticipated rookies in the last two decades of Blues hockey," posed this question to its readership: "What kind of player do you think TJ Oshie will become for the Blues over the course of his career?"
Twelve percent felt he would be "Doug Gilmour, gritty leader and star scorer who will have a good chance to make the Hall of Fame."
Twenty-four percent thought he'd be "Brian Sutter, a leader, motivator and scorer, gets his number retired but won't make the Hall."
Only two percent (thankfully) thought he'd be "Jim Campbell, he's going to bust out when he fails to hit the 20-goal mark in three years."
But 60 percent of the respondents felt TJ Oshie would be "TJ Oshie, he's not like any of these guys." One more reason it's a pretty damn exciting time to be a Blues fan these days.