The series preview for this round-one matchup can easily serve as tonight’s game one preview as well. The Blues and Canucks haven’t played each other in the postseason since 2009, a series that doesn’t invite comparison at all to this one. The team names are the same, but the faces have changed. In 2009, the Canucks were a Western Conference powerhouse, rolling to 100 points, planting themselves atop the Pacific Division and only bested in point total by the Red Wings and Presidents’ Trophy winning San Jose Sharks. The Blues, on the other hand, went from absolute dumpster fire to pleasant surprise to making the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
No one expected the Blues, who were a recent basement-dweller, to compete with Vancouver - and they didn’t. The Canucks dispatched the upstarts in four games. St. Louis took that playoff experience as an opportunity to grow as a team, and now the tables have turned. The Canucks are the team who is rebuilding with top young talent, and the Blues are the defending Stanley Cup champions with a target on their backs.
The Blues’ defense needs to be on point tonight to defend against the Canucks’ surprising bevy of offensive talent. J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Tanner Pearson, and Bo Horvat all cracked 20 goals this past season, and the Canucks have Quinn Hughes and his 45 assists to thank for much of that.
Where the Canucks have a clear weakness is on defense and, by proxy, in net. Jacob Markstrom finished the season with a 23-16-4 record, a 2.75 GAA, and a .918 save percentage. Markstrom’s save percentage is fine, but that GAA is evidence of the number of goals that the Canucks allowed during the regular season.
The Blues’ offense faltered in two of their round-robin games. More shots from the top six will equal more scoring against the Vancouver net minder. If the Blues’ can find their firepower, they could come out of the second round in a solid position.
Sammy Blais is more than likely out for tonight’s game, and Ivan Barbashev is still celebrating the birth of his child. MacKenzie MacEachern will be in on the fourth line, and we could see Troy Brouwer tonight. Brouwer is known for his post-season heroics in St. Louis, scoring the winning goal that knocked the Blackhawks out of the playoffs in 2016.