Vancouver vs. St. Louis…now we’re talking, folks. Last season, the St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup high above their collective heads for the first time in franchise history. Years of playoff failures and shortcomings were washed away after their emphatic Game 7 triumph over the Boston Bruins.
As the Blues embark on the 2020 postseason, one question begs…can they repeat as cup champs? For them to do that, they’ll first have to take down the Vancouver Canucks. Which will be no short order, to say the least. Let’s take a closer look at both teams and examine what hockey fans can expect from such an intriguing matchup.
Behind the Bench
Coaching is an important factor in any playoff series. This series sees two former NHL players going head-to-head with St Louis’ Craig Berube taking on Vancouver’s Travis Green. But just who has the edge? Let’s start with Berube.
Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues
When Berube took over as head coach in the Midwest last November, few could have predicted that the team would go all the way to the Stanley Cup final. However, this is the National Hockey League, and anything can happen. Under Berube, the Blues have adopted a physical and skilled approach to games, who come at the opposition in waves. They can beat you with size, talent, physicality, and sheer determination. They also have the superstar power to back it up with the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko, who are each capable of turning any game on its head.
Berube is known as a players coach who communicates well. He understands how the modern game and locker room work in today’s NHL. Berube demands effort on each and every shift. He allows his players to express themselves both on and off the ice. Although this may not seem like a lot, it surely goes a long way over the course of a long and grinding campaign. I think Berube will play a major factor against the Canucks.
Travis Green, St. Louis Blues
Travis Green started from rather humble beginnings as a player. He now finds himself behind the bench coaching in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Canucks. After guiding his team to a 36-27-6 record this season, the Canucks made quick work of the Minnesota Wild in the play-in series advancing in 4 games (3-1). It hasn’t always been easy for Green behind the bench but it appears as though he and the Canucks are ready for a long playoff run this summer.
Green is an offensive-minded coach who preaches puck possession, skill, and discipline. It also helps when you have the weapons at his disposal as he does with the likes of Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Bo Horvat. He and the Canucks will need to be at the very best if they are to take down the mighty Blues. After years of mediocrity, I think the Canucks and their fan base are up for the challenge.
Perhaps the most evenly matched criteria this series has to offer revolves around the forward groups of each team. We all know about the Blues’ game-breakers, but over the last few years, Canucks general manager Jim Benning has done a marvelous job accumulating talent at the forward position. In addition to their top-end guys (Pettersson, Horvat, Miller, Boeser), the Canucks also boast an impressive balance of skill, speed, and physicality that rounds out their lineup. I’ve been very impressed with the work of Jake Virtanen, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Zack MacEwan, and Tyler Motte this season, and I truly believe that each of those players can make a big difference in the series. Give the (slight) edge to the Canucks at forward.
On the Blues’ side, we once again see a skilled group of players who are battle-tested and raring to go. Although the Blues went 0-2-1 during the seeding games, look for them to respond against the Canucks over a long series. This is a team built to score, defend, and ultimately to win in the playoffs.
The Vancouver Canucks started this season with a revamped blue-line led in large part by rookie sensation, and Calder Trophy nominee, Quinn Hughes. Against the Wild, Hughes was a standout leading the team in ice-time (24:11), to go along with one goal and five assists in just 4 games played. He’s dynamic, explosive, intelligent, and a gifted skater, who can turn defense into offense seamlessly. In addition to Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, and Chris Tanev, the Canucks have a formidable defense core, which should be put to the test against the high-octane Blues forward group.
On the St. Louis side of the equation, the Blues own one of the best defenses in the NHL. With Alex Pietrangelo front and center, the Blues d-core is tough, fast, agile, in your face, experienced, and versatile. I was a big fan of the trade-deadline acquisition of Marco Scandella to really round out a group that includes Vince Dunn, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, and Carl Gunnarsson. With a defense-core this deep, I give the ultimate edge to the Blues on this one.
It’s hard to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs without good goaltending. Luckily for both the Canucks and Blues, each team has an excellent one between the pipes. Let’s start with the Canucks.
An unrestricted free agent (UFA) at season’s end, Jacob Markstrom was one of the Canucks’ best performers this season from start to finish. I loved his “fight” in goal and his ability to lock it down when his team needed it the most. Whether he returns to the Canucks or not next season remains to be seen, but one thing we do know for certain is that he will need to be at the top of the game if the Canucks are to get past the Blues.
Looking back, Jordan Binnington was one of the major factors during St. Louis’ epic turnaround last season. His Stanley Cup winning-campaign was followed up by another excellent season posting a 30-13-7 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and .912 save percentage. This guy is a true number one, capable of stealing a game (or series) at any time. It’s hard to ignore his incredible body of work at the National Hockey League level. With respect to Jacob Markstrom, the edge in goal is awarded to the Blues.
As much as I admire the growth of the Canucks as a team, and the joy I have in watching their young studs play, I’m taking the Blues to advance in this series in six games (4-2). This decision comes with regards to how hungry the Blues will be to repeat as cup champs, and how they’ll want to do everything they can to retain Alex Pietrangelo this offseason. As we all know, “Petro” is slated to become a free agent. He will be looking at a significant pay raise. Which the Blues may or may not be able to match.
As a team the Blues are experienced, they’ve “been there, done that”, and have the leadership that should place them in good stead against an up-and-coming Canucks team. They have elite goaltending and have proven that they can play when their backs are against the wall and when the pressure is on. For those reasons, I have the Blues moving on to the next round. Only time will time if my prediction holds true.
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