When we left these teams in March, they were in two very different places. St. Louis sat atop the West as one of the most complete teams in the league, and did it without top goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko for much of the season. The Canucks, on the other hand, had won just two of their past seven games and the defence was trending poorly, allowing the second-most shots against per game in the league from Jan. 1 on. When the league hit pause, Vancouver had a tenuous hold on a playoff spot.
Now, though, the Canucks are the team arriving to this series with momentum. In a 3-1 series win over the Wild — who themselves were red hot in March — the Canucks won the last three games in a row after dropping the first. At the same time, St. Louis lost three games in a row in the round robin.
These teams have met in the playoffs three times before, all in the first round, and Vancouver won each of them. But the last of those meetings came all the way back in 2009, so that’s strictly a historical footnote in 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about the Canucks-Blues first round series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Vancouver: 48.43 CF% (23rd), 49.48 GF% (20th), 91.9 SV% (14th), 8.6 SH% (9th), 1.005 PDO (10th)
St. Louis: 50.79 CF% (13th), 55.60 GF% (4th), 92.68 SV% (6th), 8.58 SH% (10th), 1.013 PDO (4th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Vancouver: 24.2 PP% (4th), 80.5 PK% (16th), 224 GF (9th), 214 GA (19th)
St. Louis: 24.3 PP% (3rd), 79.3 PK% (18th), 223 GF (11th), 190 GA (5th)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
St. Louis: 1-1-1
The story of the qualifying round:
The Canucks got off to a discouraging start in the qualifiers, losing 3-0 in Game 1 to Minnesota, but through strong goaltending, clutch play and key contributions from their best (and youngest) players, Vancouver won three in a row, including a come-from-behind overtime win in Game 4.
As a team built around such a young core and still heading toward its peak, it was a bit of a mystery how their most inexperienced players would do dipping their toe into playoff hockey for the first time. The early returns were extremely positive: Quinn Hughes led the team with six points, Elias Pettersson had four and Brock Boeser scored two goals. But it wasn’t just the youngest Canucks getting their first taste of the post-season.
Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver’s most important player in the regular season, also had his post-season debut at 31 years old and it didn’t faze him at all. Markstrom’s .964 save percentage at 5-on-5 was the best of all qualifying round netminders who played at least two full games. His .958 high danger save percentage in the last round was far and away better than the next netminder, Carey Price, who was at .897. And that’s despite a Game 4 performance that was a little shaky.
Discipline will be important for Vancouver in their next series because the Blues will pounce on any mistakes made by the young team. The Canucks took a league-leading 78 penalty minutes against the Wild and were the ninth-most penalized team in the regular season.
The Blues are probably happy they didn’t have to survive a best-of-five series to get here, because they went 0-3 in the round robin to land as the fourth seed in the West after finishing first in the regular season. Is that cause for concern, or a veteran team that knows when — and how — to turn it up when it needs to?
In that round robin, St. Louis just did not look like the team it was in March when they seemed primed for another extended playoff run. They scored six times in three games, four of which came in a 6-4 loss to Vegas, allowed 38 shots against per game (up from 29.6 in the regular season), and only three players managed to score: David Perron, Colton Parayko and Troy Brouwer.
Even Jordan Binnington had mixed reviews, with one good start against Colorado, and a poor one against Vegas.
With the stakes about to get much higher in an elimination round, can the champs turn it on out of the gates against a largely young and inexperienced team on a hot streak?
Vancouver Canucks X-Factor: Tyler Myers
Myers won’t be counted on for his offence or anything, but he will be entrusted with plenty of minutes and needs to be more disciplined than he was against Minnesota. In the regular season, Myers averaged the most even strength minutes of any Canuck and he’ll play both power play and penalty kill as well.
But he led all qualifying round players with 18 penalty minutes and that can’t continue. The Blues are not only the defending champs and more than capable of taking advantage of mistakes, but they also had the third-best power play in the regular season. Myers plays too many minutes to be in the box that much. If he’s out of the picture, it not only gives the Blues an advantage on the power play, but also puts more of a strain on the Canucks’ defence, which isn’t known for its depth.
St. Louis Blues X-Factor: Vladimir Tarasenko
Getting Vladimir Tarasenko healthy for the playoffs was a bigger addition for the Blues than any trade deadline acquisition. Tarasenko missed all but 10 games this season after having shoulder surgery in October and would have missed at least some of the playoffs while recovering had things gone ahead as originally scheduled.
Now healthy, the Blues have a five-time 30-goal scorer added to their lineup for the most important games of the year. Tarasenko was quiet during the round robin games, with zero points and only taking four shots. But if he can find his game the Blues’ chances of defending their crown only grow.
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— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) August 9, 2020