The St. Louis Blues are ready to defend their title as the Stanley Cup playoffs are about to begin. They face an interesting first-round matchup, as they will take on a young Vancouver Canucks team.
The Season Series with the Canucks
The Blues and Canucks met three times in the 2019-20 regular season. The first game was on Oct. 17 and was a shootout loss for St. Louis, as they blew a 3-1 lead in the game. That was the only game against the Canucks that featured Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues, who scored a goal.
The second matchup was in Vancouver on Nov. 5. It was an evenly matched game that finished with the notorious 3-on-0 goal in overtime for the Blues, scored by Jaden Schwartz.
Their third and final matchup was on Jan. 27, won by the Canucks 3-1. The Blues scored first on a Zach Sanford goal in the first, but they could not buy another as Thatcher Demko stole the game for the Canucks.
The Blues went 1-1-1 against the Canucks and with the games being as evenly played as they were, this could be a fun series to watch.
Matchup #1: Offense
This is the toughest one to choose between the main three parts of both teams. Both teams have skilled forwards and a tough bottom-six. It doesn’t get much closer than this.
I think the Canucks’ top line is a safer bet with J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser over the Blues’ top-line with Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Tarasenko.
The Canucks second-line with Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat, and Loui Eriksson was good in the qualifying round, but I like David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sanford more for St. Louis. The bottom-six for the Blues is likely better than the Canucks, but it’s closer than most people think.
Verdict: EVEN matchup between both teams
Matchup #2: Defense
The defensive side of things is where we see a gap. The Blues’ defense at full strength is more potent than the Canucks. The Canucks defense is solid, and has talent, but is it enough to keep up with the unit in St. Louis?
The Blues’ shutdown pair with Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella is going to have to be as good as Jay Bouwmeester and Parayko were in the playoffs last year. Scandella has been one of the underrated deadline acquisitions for any team, as he’s been rock solid.
I expect to see more offense on the back-end for St. Louis in this series, and that starts with the captain Alex Pietrangelo, followed by Vince Dunn, Justin Faulk, and Parayko.
The Canucks defense has an up-and-coming star in Quinn Hughes and some toughness with Chris Tanev and Alex Edler. I don’t see them being able to shut a team down, though. The Blues’ defense is key for them if they want to win this series.
Verdict: Blues top the Canucks defensively
Matchup #3: Jordan Binnington vs. Jacob Markstrom
Goaltending could decide the series – whichever netminder has the best series could steal it. Binnington was solid in the round-robin games, despite not putting up spectacular stats. Markstrom was excellent in the qualifying-round against the Minnesota Wild.
Binnington’s career stats against the Canucks are great. In three games, he’s 2-0-1 with a .934 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.86 goals-against average (GAA). Markstrom’s career stats against the Blues have been solid, he’s 3-4-1 over nine games with a SV% of .906 and a 2.51 GAA.
This matchup comes down to playoff success for me and with Binnington winning the Stanley Cup last year and him having an elite defensive group in front of him, it would be hard to go against him.
Verdict: Binnington edges out Markstrom here
This is a hard series to project with the Blues going 0-2-1 in the round-robin games, but you’d expect the defending champs to find their game in this first series.
It will be interesting to see if the qualifying-round teams have an upper hand over the top seeds since they’ve already played meaningful games for a week. I’d guess that most top-seed teams can get their game going in these series, while some won’t.
The Blues are a -200 favorite to win the series over the Canucks, according to DraftKings.
My prediction is that the Blues win a close series that finishes in seven games. The physical play of St. Louis wears a youthful Canucks team down. They grind it out, as they did in 2019.