Blues vs. Canucks playoff preview

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No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Blues: 0-2-1 in round-robin; 42-19-10, .662 points percentage in regular season

Canucks: 3-1 to win qualifier series against Minnesota Wild; 36-27-6, .565 points percentage in regular season

Season series: STL 1-1-1; VAN 2-0-1

Game 1 is Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS)

The Blues are searching for their game while entering the Western Conference First Round against the Canucks.

St. Louis, the reigning Stanley Cup champion, lost all three of its round-robin games (0-2-1) and went from having the best points percentage in the West during the regular season to the No. 4 seed after the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

“We definitely didn’t play our best in these three games, but I think we progressively got better,” said goalie Jake Allen, who made 37 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars in the final round-robin game Sunday. “… We need to home in on Vancouver. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

The Canucks were too much for the Wild in their best-of-5 qualifiers series, riding their young players on offense by scoring 12 goals in four games. Quinn Hughes, the 20-year-old defenseman who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy awarded to the best rookie in the NHL, led the Canucks with six points (one goal, five assists). Bo Horvat, a 25-year-old forward, scored four points (two goals and two assists) and 20-year-old forward Elias Pettersson also had four points (one goal, three assists). 

“Vancouver has a lot of young guys who are really good players, (have) a lot of speed,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “They’re a dangerous team offensively, they really come at you with speed. We’re going to have to do a good job of checking, doing the right things. The other thing is they have a good power play. We took too many penalties (in the round-robin), so it’s important we have to stay out of the penalty box.”

The Canucks hope they can keep the momentum they are building going against their toughest opponent yet.

“We want to be sharp going into the next series,” Hughes said. “It’s a huge win for the team and the organization. We expected this and hopefully we’re not done.”

This will be the fourth playoff series between the Blues and Canucks. Vancouver won each of the previous three, including the most recent in four games in the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

 

Game breakers

Blues: Ryan O’Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, has continued to be the Blues’ best player. He led them in scoring during the regular season with 61 points (12 goals, 49 assists) in 71 games and is a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL, an award he won last season. He continued that high level of play during the round-robin with an assist on three of the six goals scored by the Blues.

Canucks: After leading rookies in scoring during the regular season with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists), Hughes picked up where he left off in the Qualifiers, scoring four power-play points and averaging 24:11 of ice time per game.

 

Goaltending

Blues: Jordan Binnington helped St. Louis win the Cup last season and carried his strong play into this season, going 30-13-7 with a 2.56 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and three shutouts in 50 games. But he had an up-and-down two games during the round-robin. He allowed three goals on the first 51 shots he faced in a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and through the first period against the Vegas Golden Knights but gave up six goals on 25 shots in the final two periods of that 6-4 loss. 

Canucks: Jacob Markstrom played every minute for the Canucks against the Wild and will be counted on again against the Blues. He allowed nine goals on 121 shots (2.27 GAA, .926 save percentage) and had one shutout in the four games.

 

Numbers to know

Blues: St. Louis was outscored 6-0 in the third period of its three round-robin games. The Blues held the lead in all three games entering the third but lost in regulation to the Avalanche and Golden Knights, and a shootout against the Stars. During the regular season, the Blues outscored their opponents 76-62 in the third and were 27-0-6 when leading after two.

Canucks: Scored two first-period goals in four games and 10 in the second and third. Seven players had at least three points in the Qualifiers. Horvat won 58.3 percent of his face-offs (49-of-84).

 

X factor

Blues: Defenseman Justin Faulk scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 69 games of his first season with St. Louis, the fewest of his eight full NHL seasons. But he has a history of producing, averaging 32 points in his first eight seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. His 15:56 of even-strength ice time per game in the round-robin was second behind Colton Parayko (18:44) among St. Louis defensemen.

Canucks: Forward Brock Boeser was held off the score sheet and had one shot on goal in Game 1, but scored three points (two goals, one assist), eight shots on goal and was plus-3 in the final three games of the series. Boeser scored 16 goals in 57 regular-season games and said he was counting on himself to step up in the postseason. He did that in the Qualifiers.

 

They said it

“I’m not going to sit here and worry about what seed we are right now. I’m worrying about Vancouver. We have to play better as a team. That’s what on my mind, is getting our team prepared to play Vancouver. We have to play better than we’re playing.” — Blues coach Craig Berube

“He’s been a brick wall for us all year. … He’s been our rock ever since Day One and we wouldn’t be in this position right now without him.” — Canucks forward Bo Horvat on goalie Jacob Markstrom

 

Will win if …

Blues: They put their issues from the round-robin behind them and get back to the team they were during the 2019 playoffs and most of the 2019-20 season. Every key player from the championship team is back and healthy entering the first round. The Blues played all season with a championship mentality, and now it needs to be rediscovered.

Canucks: Special teams continue to be solid. Vancouver was 4-for-19 on the power play (21.1 percent) and 19-for-22 on the penalty kill (86.4. percent).

 

Blues projected lineup

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford — Ryan O’Reilly — David Perron

Sammy BlaisRobert ThomasTyler Bozak

Mackenzie MacEachernOskar SundqvistAlexander Steen

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Marco Scandella — Colton Parayko

Justin Faulk — Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington

Jake Allen

Scratched: Ivan Barbashev, Troy Brouwer, Jacob de la Rose, Vince Dunn Klim Kostin, Jordan Kyrou, Austin Poganski, Niko Mikkola, Derrick Pouliot, Jake Walman, Ville Husso

Unfit to play: None

 

Canucks projected lineup

J.T. Miller — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Loui Eriksson

Antoine RousselBrandon SutterJake Virtanen

Tyler MotteJay BeagleZack MacEwen

Alexander EdlerTroy Stecher

Quinn Hughes — Christopher Tanev

Olli JuoleviTyler Myers

Jacob Markstrom

Thatcher Demko

Scratched: Justin Bailey, Jordie Benn, Jalen Chatfield, Louis Domingue, Adam Gaudette, Tyler Graovac, Brogan Rafferty

Unfit to play: Oscar Fantenberg, Micheal Ferland, Josh Leivo, Tyler Toffoli

NHL.com staff writers David Satriano and Adam Kimelman contributed to this report.

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