Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Post Dispatch News Service via Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko continued his rise to super-stardom on Saturday, scoring the first playoff hat trick by a Blue in 11 years to lead St. Louis over Minnesota 4-1.
Vladimir Tarasenko has an air of destiny about him.
The 23-year-old Russian scored the first playoff hat trick by a St. Louis Blue in 11 years as he powered his squad to a hard-fought 4-1 win over Minnesota in Game 2 on Saturday.
Tarasenko was the most dynamite player on the ice, scoring twice in the first period to spot his team to a 2-0 lead, then challenging the Wild on several more occasions before scoring into an empty net at the end of the game.
His first goal came in large part thanks to Alexander Steen, who muscled the puck out from behind the Wild net and played give-and-take with his defenders before firing it at the net from the blueline. Tarasenko bulled his way to the front just in time to tip Steen’s shot home and make it 1-0.
It was a perfect display of Tarasenko’s deft touch and incredible hockey sense, as he knew just when to slide across to get the tip.
His second goal was a marvelous display of instinct and accuracy. Tarasenko took a cross-ice feed from Steen and skated into the corner on the power play, with Dmitrij Jaskin stationed in front of the net. Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk must’ve thought Tarasenko was too deep in the corner to shoot, because he started cheating to stop the Jaskin pass.
But Tarasenko wasn’t too deep. He fired the puck from the bottom of the circle and somehow found daylight between Dubnyk and the post, making it 2-0 St. Louis.
Tarasenko registered five shots in the game and nearly scored on a beautiful stickhandling play in the second, but Dubnyk was there to deny him.
Dubnyk wasn’t there to deny Tarasenko’s hat trick at the end of the game, though. He put the Wild away with the empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining to finish the game at 4-1.
With so much of the Blues’ lineup the same from last year, Tarasenko is going to be one of the most important players to watch as the team looks to go deep in the playoffs. Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera were the Blues’ most significant off-season additions, but neither player has the upside Tarasenko has. They make this roster a little better than last year, but Tarasenko can make it a lot better.
The 23-year-old has the highest ceiling of anybody on the roster, and the Blues’ success will largely rely on how quickly he fulfills his potential.
Each team has one or two Conn Smythe-type players – guys who you just know will be the difference-makers if their team makes it to the Stanley Cup final. Chicago has Patrick Kane. Montreal has Carey Price. Nashville has Pekka Rinne.
St. Louis has Tarasenko. If this kid can find another gear after his career-best 37-goal, 73-point season, the Blues could be hoisting the shiny hardware come June.
Tarasenko’s talent is obvious in the little details, like his tip-in first goal, his seeing-eye second goal and his long-distance empty-netter.
The Blues winger could shoot the wings off a gnat, and that’s the kind of player St. Louis needs: a pure sniper to help them get through the top goalies in the West like Pekka Rinne or Corey Crawford.
Tarasenko doesn’t stumble. He doesn’t go cold. He only seems to trend upward, and he has the opportunity to take the Blues with him this spring.