By Patrick Kelly
After what was the best year of St. Louis Blues fans’ lives in 2019, 2020 built up a lot of hype but fell short in many ways. The Blues looked like one of the hottest teams going down the stretch of the NHL season having had two separate eight-game winning streaks, all without their top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. Then of course came the pandemic, players weren’t able to skate, routines and momentum were thrown by the wayside, and who was going to rise to the top of the NHL playoffs was going to be a bit of a mystery.
For the Blues, their bubble round robin started off not so hot, blowing three third-period leads in all games to go 0-3. Blues fans hoped the urgency would be there for the first round and the Blues definitely turned up the pressure, but it wasn’t enough early on, going down 2-0 in the series. After a goalie change saw Jordan Binnington pulled from the net, the Blues found a spark and got to their goal in Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. While the Blues seemed like they were the dominant team in Game 5, they squandered a two-goal lead and had a do-or-die game last Friday night.
Right from the start, the Blues looked flat. The passing was abysmal all game, everyone just seemed to be on different wavelengths and the Vancouver Canucks pounced all over the defending champs. The young Canucks controlled play in all three zones and continually forced the Blues to make bad errors that led to a 4-0 lead they carried into the third period. The Blues managed to get on the board twice with both goals by Jaden Schwartz, but it was too little too late and they fell 6-2, ending their season and Cup defense.
The Blues now move to the offseason with a lot of questions about how different this team will look. The biggest elephant in the room is Alex Pietrangelo, who when asked about his future in his postgame press conference said, “I’m not going to answer that, we’ll find out soon.”
Before the pandemic the Blues were going to struggle signing Pietrangelo, but now with the cap possibly staying stagnant the Blues might need to think long term.
They have a Hobey Baker winning defenseman who can very well make the team next year, and the Blues need to start looking at what the expansion draft will take from this team. If they were to find their way into the Blues lineup, Scott Perunovich would be exempt from the expansion draft having not played two full professional seasons by the time the draft rolls around. This still leaves a lot of questions for the offense which is very deep with young talent like Robert Thomas, Sammy Blais, and Zach Sanford all needing to be protected to prevent being exposed to the Seattle Kraken.
Regardless of how this team looks next year, the core will make this a Cup contending team for years to come. The biggest hope now is that Tarasenko will not require any further surgery and can have a timetable to return to 100 percent by the start of next season whenever that does start. Whether Ryan O’Reilly is the captain next year or Pietrangelo returns as captain, this is a team built to get the job done and move forward no matter what.
Finally, a lot of credit goes to the Canucks. They are a scary-fast team with a perfect blend of speed, skill, and resilience as shown in this series. It probably won’t be this year, but if they make the right moves going forward, the Canucks could see Lord Stanley raised in Vancouver within the next few years. Both of these teams will be contenders for a while and you can only assume that as the 2020s start, this was just round one.