The St. Louis Blues are preparing for their second-round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, as it will begin with Game 1 from Ball Arena in Denver. It will take virtually everything the Blues have to beat the Avalanche, who are the juggernaut of the Western Conference.
The Blues took the Minnesota Wild down in six games after a dominant effort to win the final three games of the series. They’ll now face a massive challenge in the second round as they make their first appearance in the second round since the Stanley Cup run in 2019.
Perunovich Stepped Up in First Round
Scott Perunovich returned to the ice for the first time since mid-January in a game for the Blues due to wrist surgery. He took Torey Krug’s spot as the quarterback of the top power-play unit after Krug got injured in Game 3 of the series against the Wild.
He stepped in a major way with three assists in all three games that he played in. All three assists came on the power play. He simply did his job and made the right plays. That’s all the Blues could ask out of a 23-year-old who hasn’t played playoff hockey in the NHL before.
There have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from Perunovich, and I would say that he played well enough overall to be the third left-handed defenseman on opening night for the 2022-23 season. He’s a big reason why the Blues won the series over the Wild and for their power-play success without their number one quarterback.
Special Teams Proved to be Elite
The Blues’ special teams play was elite in their six-game first-round series. They had the league’s second-best power play and the fifth-best penalty kill throughout the regular season, and they carried that success over into the first-round series against the Wild. It might be the biggest reason why they shut it down in six games.
They doubled the Wild in power-play goals, eight to four, and Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly scored four of them himself. The Blues’ top unit of O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, and Scott Perunovich accounted for seven of the eight power-play goals in six games. The second unit obviously got less time on the ice but generated some chances, and Jordan Kyrou scored a power-play marker in Game 2.
The penalty kill had a couple of individual game struggles in the series, but they were able to hold the Wild to a 16% power-play success rate. They allowed three goals to Kirill Kaprizov on the power-play, and one to Frederick Gaudreau, but they shut down the rest of the Wild’s offensive threats. They finished the series 10/12 on the penalty kill, allowing the two Kaprizov power-play goals in Game 5.
Getting Robert Bortuzzo back on the penalty kill made a difference for the Blues, and Pavel Buchnevich has continued to be a penalty-killing force as a forward. It helped that the Wild appeared to be clueless on some of their power-play chances, but the Blues made the right play a lot.
Second Round Matchup with Avalanche
The Blues will see a rematch of the first round last season with the Avalanche, when they got swept in four games by the juggernaut. Both teams are different this time around, and there is a great argument to make that they are both better than they were during the 2021 playoffs.
I’ll have much more on these two teams in my series preview article, but there is no doubt that this is an enormous test for the Blues in every way possible. In their short regular-season series, the Blues went 1-2-0 and got outscored 12-11, but they did beat Colorado in the first game of the 2021-22 season by a score of 5-3.
The Blues are going to have trouble finding an answer for the Avs’ top-six forwards, and the best offensive defenseman in the game, Cale Makar. They’ll need the best version of Jordan Binnington in net, and they’ll need to stay healthy for the entirety of the series. Head coach Craig Berube said there’s a chance that the Blues could get Krug or Marco Scandella back in this series, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. This should be an incredible series between two teams that finished third and fourth in the NHL in goals scored during the regular season.
The Week Ahead
There isn’t an official schedule for the series just yet, but it appears likely that it will start on Tuesday and likely be the late-window game on TNT or TBS in the United States. There’s nothing set in stone with the schedule, but the latest reporting indicates that and it makes a lot of sense. They will likely get the first three games o the series done in the first week if it begins on Tuesday and the playoff scheduling style remains the same. The Blues must come out fast and hard to start this series, or else they will have no chance.