If Game 1 of the St. Louis-Vancouver playoff series was the worst game the Blues will play in this matchup, they have a tremendous chance to advance.
I'm not saying that because I'm some blind fanboy who laps up every thing that's shoveled on the ice down at 14th and Clark. No way. The Blues played a turd of a game and still only lost 2-1. They had their chances Wednesday night, the biggest being a long 5-3 power play that they couldn't convert. Canuck Goaltender Roberto Luongo played a tremendous game, but the Blues didn't put enough pressure on him with bodies in front, either screening Luongo or pouncing on rebounds. One of the few times the Blues got a lucky bounce on a rebound from a save, Brad Boyes scored the Blues' only goal.
"Obviously we're disappointed in the loss, but the key was the 5-3. We've got a find a way to shoot the puck. You gotta score on a 5-3, that's the bottom line and we didn't. We had our chances, our opportunities on the power play and just didn't produce," Keith Tkachuk told Jim Hayes on the FSMidwest postgame show. "I think we have to drive the net a little more, we have to make it a little tougher. That doesn't mean doing crazy stuff. It means getting shots and having guys drive. In playoff hockey you gotta get those goals around the net. You're not going to get those goals around the perimeter."
The Blues were better than this the last two months. And if you look at the schedule even during their amazing stretch drive, the Blues struggled with multiple days off. This rhythm where they have a single day off between the next two games will be helpful. Why, I don't know. What I do know is if the Blues play like they have show they are capable of playing, Friday night in Game 2 is going to be a different story.
"Our team can play better. We needed to make some adjustments in the third period based on how they were checking and we didn't do that. But to me, our team should feel encouraged about this series," head coach Andy Murray told the media after the game. "We're very capable of playing a lot better."
Here are my quick hit reactions after Game 1.
- No flow to the game. The referees called an extremely close game, especially for a playoff game. It felt like this contest was happening in November when the referees are trying to rein players in and make a point with penalties.
There were 20 penalties in the game, but that does include five infractions called at the buzzer in the first period. As time expired, former Blue Ryan Johnson skated over to Dan Hinote, grabbed him from behind and then body slammed him to the ice. The last game in St. Louis against the Canucks in the regular season, the former teammates jawed at each other, pushed and shoved after the whistle. There's some animosity there.
- Vancouver played more physical than the St. Louis. This amazing ride into the playoffs was on the back of the fore-checkers. Hitting in the offensive end wore teams down and created offensive chances and penalties for the Blues the last two months. Vancouver knew this and tried beating the Blues at their own game. And for one night, it worked. That was surprising. Murray told reporters the Blues knew they had to make a few adjustments to the Vancouver checking game and they just didn't get it done.
- Keith Tkachuk took a dumb retaliation penalty. Big Walt earned a reputation as a hothead and playoff flop earlier in his career. As soon as I saw that Walt was headed to the box for roughing, it was disheartening. Tkachuk is one of the select few veterans on this team. He needs to set an example and find ways to contribute. On the lone Blues goal, he won the faceoff and helped create traffic on the shot that rebounded to Boyes. Still, he can't do that from the penalty box.
- Pavol Demitra was playing some inspired hockey against his former organization. He skated hard. He played in traffic. He made the key play on the Canucks' first goal. It's been awhile since he played in St. Louis, but the guy is playing like he's still pissed about something. There are two guys on the roster who played with him. Whatever was driving him Wednesday night, it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up Friday night.