The Vancouver Canucks are the only Canadian team to make it into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To do so, they beat the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues four games to two. It was a physical series but the team was led by goalie Jacob Markstrom, it’s two young stars Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes, and newcomer to the team J.T. Miller.
The team begins Round 2 by taking on another strong team in the Vegas Golden Knights. In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll offer one final review of the previous series between the Canucks and Blues and will take a brief look ahead to tonight’s Game 1 in the series between Vancouver and Vegas.
Item One: If It Were Player vs. Player, Elias Pettersson Won and Jordan Binnington Lost
Last season, after Elias Pettersson won the Calder Trophy and Jordan Binnington came in second, Binnington said that the results of the vote “left a bad taste” in his mouth. From my experience in sports, such comments are seldom forgotten when the next meeting between the teams comes around.
Although I didn’t hear many references to last season’s comments by Binnington from the Canucks players, anyone who’s played sports has to believe that such comments were at least motivation among the Canucks players.
Obviously, any series matches teams first and individuals second; however, hockey is a game of competition and personal feelings are always at stake during any sporting event I’ve been part of. My suspicion is that Pettersson, or at least his supportive teammates, wanted to beat Binnington – just because of what he said about a teammate.
If I’m correct that there was a personal competition during this Round 1 series, the clear winner was Pettersson and the Canucks. I’m guessing there was a feeling in the room of a necessary payback.
Blues’ coach Craig Berube had to have been a bit undecided about which of his goalies to start in the Game 6 do-or-die match against the Canucks. In the end, he sat Jake Allen and chose Binnington, who had a strong 2019-20 season and was the star of the Blues 2019 Stanley Cup win.
Allen had won Games 3 and 4 but had lost Game 5. Binnington had lost Games 1 and 2 and had been below average since the NHL’s postseason started. His record going into the deciding Game 6 was 0-4 with a goals-against-average of 4.27 and a .862 save percentage.
That’s not good and it didn’t get better. In Game 6, Binnington was behind 4-0 before he knew what hit him. In the end, Berube’s gamble to play Binnington didn’t pay off. The 27-year-old goalie never seemed comfortable in net during the postseason.
After leading his Blues to the Stanley Cup last season, Binnington was a disappointment this postseason. His final record was 0-5 with a goals-against-average of 4.72 and a .851 save percentage. He was particularly leaky (giving up 19 goals) during his last four games (and in all three against the Canucks).
Perhaps this postseason was a fluke, and the young goalie will have next season to prove himself. In the meantime, what do the Blues do with another season remaining on Allen’s $4.35 million contract? The fall from the top can be hard.
Item Two: Pettersson’s Getting Stronger Each Game
Pettersson, the Canucks young Swedish star, scored two assists (one on the power play) in Friday’s 6-2 series-clinching win over the Blues. Pettersson simply looks stronger each game and now has a bit of a scoring streak with four multiple-point games in his last five.
The young center now has four goals and nine assists in 10 playoff games. Those 13 points tie him for the league lead with Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon.
Pettersson is clearly the top player to emerge from the 2017 Draft. Two young defensemen – the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar and the Dallas Stars’ Miro Heiskanen – are two others.
Item Three: Jay Beagle Picks a Great Time for His First Postseason Goal
Overall, one key to the Canucks’ series win was the play of the team’s fourth line. One fourth-line player – Jay Beagle – picked a great time to score his first postseason goal and the Canucks first goal of the game.
Related: Vancouver Canucks All-Time Team
Canucks fans sometimes forget that Beagle won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals before he signed prior to the 2018-19 season. Head coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning coveted Beagle’s qualities and experience and saw him as both a role player and a role model for their young team.
Beagle hasn’t disappointed. He’s been a template for the kind of professionalism the Canucks organization values.
Item Four: Tyler Motte Had Two Great Games
Tyler Motte was a nice surprise during both Game 5 and Game 6 and his play might be the most immediate reason the Canucks won this series. Motte always has an engine that won’t quit; however, he’s usually flying around the ice beating on opponents shift after shift. His offensive success this series was not expected.
Motte scored two goals in Wednesday’s 4-3 Game 5 win; then, he scored two more goals in Friday’s 6-2 Game 6 victory. In both games, he used both his speed and shiftiness to tie opponents in knots easily going around them to score. He seemed to take advantage of every turnover to begin a breakaway.
The 25-year-old had no points in eight games entering Game 5, so his scoring was a nice surprise for Vancouver. With his two goals Friday, he both strung together back-to-back multi-goal games and helped his team clinch the series against the Blues four games to two games.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
During the final two games of the series, Motte and the Canucks bottom-six were gold and provided great depth scoring. An even bigger test is looming when the team meets the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round.
The Canucks’ cause would be helped if the bottom six continues its solid play. However, there is also a chance both Tyler Toffoli and Tyler Myers have mended enough to return to the lineup. If so, that helps.
It will be a great test for the young Canucks to see if they can hold back the powerful forwards the Golden Knights can ice. But, the team is maturing and, as Kelly Hrudey noted during the television broadcast, he likes the Canucks chances.