The Stanley Cup title defense got off to a rough start for the St. Louis Blues. It’s a good thing those round-robin games were only for seeding purposes. They went from having the best points percentage in the Western Conference during the regular season to the No. 4 seed by going 0-2-1 in round-robin play, drawing the Vancouver Canucks in a first-round best-of-seven series that opens on Wednesday in Edmonton. Having won three games in a row to oust Minnesota in the qualifying round, taking two of three regular season meetings against the Blues, and having never lost a playoff series to St. Louis should make the Canucks a confident group heading in.
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St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks Series Schedule
Game 1: Canucks vs. Blues, Wednesday, August 12, 2020, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Canucks vs. Blues, Friday, August 14, 2020, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHLN)
Game 3: Blues vs. Canucks, Sunday, August 16, 2020, 10:30 p.m. ET (CNBC)
Game 4: Blues vs. Canucks, Monday, August 17, 2020, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 5: Canucks vs. Blues, Wednesday, August 19, 2020 (If Necessary)
Game 6: Blues vs. Canucks, Friday, August 21, 2020 (If Necessary)
Game 7: Canucks vs. Blues, Sunday, August 23, 2020 (If Necessary)
Series Price at BookMaker.eu
Vancouver Canucks +184
St. Louis Blues -213
Well, we certainly didn’t expect to see that from the Blues. The West’s top team at the shutdown stumbled through round-play. A team that usually stymies opponents when it has the lead entering the third period was outscored 6-0 in the final stanza surrendering the advantage in all three round-robin games. They lost in regulation to Colorado and Vegas, and in a shootout to Dallas. Is this just a bump in the road or a sign of things to come?
The Blues were in the middle of the pack offensively during the regular season averaging 3.14 goals per game. They tallied just six goals in the round-robin with four of those coming in a 6-4 loss to Vegas. Leading scorer Ryan O’Reilly had three assists and third-leading scorer Brayden Schenn added a pair of helpers. St. Louis needs more from its big guns.
There are two schools of thought regarding the round-robin. Winning for a better seed is one while trying to get in game-shape with no regard to the outcome is another. I’m not sure where the Blues were leaning on this, but Jake Allen had a response. “We definitely didn’t play our best in those three games, but I think we progressively got better,” he said.
Jordan Binnington was a revelation in the Blues’ Cup win last season and he carried that strong play into the regular season winning 30 games with a 2.56 goals against average and .912 save percentage. The results were mixed in two round-robin starts. He stopped 36 of 38 shots in a 2-1 loss to Colorado and conceded six goals on 38 shots in a 6-4 loss to Vegas. In two regular season starts against Vancouver he posted a .939 save percentage and 1.87 GAA.
Given their youth and knocking off Minnesota in a pressure series, the Canucks are a dangerous team. There was some concern over how the young core would react in its first playoff series together. They passed the test, storming back after a Game 1 loss to win the next three, including a comeback overtime win to beat the Wild in Game 4.
The youngsters paved the way in the qualifier with 20-year-old defenseman Quinn Hughes posting a team-high six points. The Calder Trophy finalist had eight goals and 45 assists during the regular season. Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson each had four points with Brock Boeser adding two goals and an assist. The Canucks were sneaky good during the regular season averaging 3.25 goals to rank eighth. Leading scorer J.T. Miller had 27 goals and 45 assists during the regular season.
St. Louis might have the edge in net but not by much after watching Jakob Markstrom shut down the Wild. Playing every minute he stropped 92.6 percent of shots faced with a 2.27 GAA. He was stellar during the regular season with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 GAA in 43 starts.
Player to Watch
The delayed playoffs benefitted the Blues and especially Vladimir Tarasenko. He missed all but 10 games during the regular season after undergoing shoulder surgery and likely would have missed the playoffs under normal circumstances. Inserting a five-time 30-goal scorer into the lineup is a huge boost. A major part of the Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season with 11 postseason goals, Tarasenko was scoreless in two round-robin games. He’s healthy now and if he finds his game the Blues just became a better team.
Blues vs. Canucks Free Picks
I’m going to dismiss the round-robin games simply because the Blues are a veteran team that knows what it takes to win. There isn’t much difference between teams in terms of seeding anyway. Vancouver is confident after taking two of three games during the regular season. However, the Blues will turn things up with their lockdown forecheck causing turnovers that are turned into opportunities.
Blues vs. Canucks Series Pick: Blues in 5 Games
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