St. Louis Blues’ 2021 First-Round Playoff Preview

The St. Louis Blues have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season, and they will have an uphill battle as they face the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche. This will be a fun series to watch regardless of the result, as a rivalry has been brewing in the Central Division between these two core groups for a few seasons now and has carried over to the West this season.

The Season Series With the Avalanche

The Blues began this season with a dominant 4-1 victory over the Avalanche, then lost five straight to Colorado throughout the season. They ended up finishing strong with back-to-back wins over them to close out the season series.

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug, St Louis Blues (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

I would say that the Blues’ hot finish to the regular started with their comeback against the Avalanche on April 24, where Ryan O’Reilly scored a hat trick. They can hang with this team at even strength, I have no doubt in my mind when it comes to that. Special teams could determine the outcome of this series.

Matchup #1: Offense

This is a lopsided one, as the Blues have looked lost offensively at times this season, while the Avalanche led the NHL in goals for, with 197. The Blues were 13th in the league with 167 – they had a hot finish that helped propel them into that slot heading into the postseason.

We all know how good the Avs’ top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen is, and the Blues will have a tough time trying to slow them down. But don’t forget how good Colorado’s middle six can be, either, as six other forwards, other than the top three, had over 10 goals this season.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We all know how spectacular Cale Makar is on the blue line as a puck-mover that generates offense – he will also be a lot to handle, and the Blues have to find a way to make him defend more than he may be comfortable with.

As for the Blues offensively, it starts with O’Reilly and they will need key contributions from the likes of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and others as the uncertainty looms with David Perron landing on the COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday. That doesn’t mean he won’t play in this series, but it remains up in the air as of now.

Verdict: Avalanche have significant advantage

Matchup #2: Defense

This one is closer, but still not ideal for the Blues overall. The Avs ranked third in the entire league in goals against, allowing just 132 goals in the 56-game season, ranking behind the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders in this category.

The Blues have to dig deep and play within their system defensively to find something if they want to make any sort of run. As THW’s own Stephen Ground said, they need to find an identity – that will be hard to find with this group and it may not be possible. Colton Parayko must anchor the defense while Torey Krug and Justin Faulk have to continue to be aggressive as we have seen for most of this season.

Colton Parayko St. Louis Blues
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for the Avs, Makar with Samuel Girard and Devon Toews to go along with Ryan Graves are a very good top four – they’re hard to top right now as far as two-way play goes. In my view, this series for the Blues will come down to defense and goaltending overall, and their defense must find its game.

Verdict: Avs over the Blues defensively, although relatively close

Matchup #3: Jordan Binnington vs. Philipp Grubauer

This will be a huge determination in this series, as Jordan Binnington has been up-and-down, while Philipp Grubauer was lights out for his 40 games played this season.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Statistically for Binnington, he went 18-14-8 over 42 games and carried a save percentage (SV%) of .910. He had his struggles, but has gained some momentum heading into this series.

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As for Grubauer, he had a career year when it comes to the numbers. He went 30-9-1 with seven shutouts and a SV% of .922. He is a Vezina Trophy candidate for the league’s best goaltender, no doubt about it. He is coming into the series off of a shutout against the Los Angeles Kings, and, in his last start against the Blues, he saved 27 of 28 shots.

Binnington struggled against the Avs this season with a 3-4-0 record and a .909 SV%, although the Blues’ defensive unit certainly let him down many times.

Verdict: Grubauer edges Binnington based off of his regular season, even though postseason play is a different animal

Prediction

I think this series is less lopsided than people are saying, but it is still an extreme uphill battle for a Blues team that has struggled to be consistent all season long. I think they’ll hang with them, and I even think there is a chance they can upset them and do what some would say is “impossible,” but it is going to be difficult.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, Game Six of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Prediction: Avalanche defeat the Blues in six games

The thing that Blues fans should want to see here is toughness against the NHL’s best regular-season team. Show them that you belong and could even score an upset. Let’s hope for a wild series and we’ll see if the Blues can pull it off.


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