By Patrick Kelly
In what was a crazy round robin and qualification rounds for the NHL playoffs, the two defending champions of each conference find themselves as the last seed in their respective conferences. The St. Louis Blues will be the No. 4 seed and play the Vancouver Canucks, who are coming off a 2-1 series win over the Minnesota Wild. The Blues fell to the Dallas Stars, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday to solidify their spot in the West.
The Blues had three leads in each third period of their round-robin games and blew every lead, including two in the last minute. While this is a big point of concern, there were still a lot of positives from the game. Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the lineup and both seemed to play with an added level of intensity with Thomas getting the Blues’ lone goal in the first period. Jake Allen also was in net for the Blues instead of Jordan Binnington and Allen had a very strong game with some big saves keeping the Blues’ lead intact for most of the game. Several teams throughout the play-in and qualification rounds used both goalies and the Blues are one of many teams that can feel confident with both their netminders as the first round begins.
Despite the positives that occurred, there are some problems that have persisted in all three round-robin games. The first is the Blues are not hitting. One of the staples for the Blues run last year was their hard forechecking and relentlessness towards their opponent for the whole series. After two games, the Blues sat fourth in the West in hits per game and seemed to not have the intensity they have when at the top of their game. The other problem is shots, not just not firing any, but when they are making it on the net. One of the reasons is these shots have to be rushed. The Blues were not able to keep sustained zone time as long as their opponents, which led to their opponents averaging 71 shot attempts per game.
The Blues move into Round 1 with a matchup against a team they are 1-1-1 against. In the Blues’ one regulation loss, Thatcher Demko was in goal and he hasn’t played since he finished off the regular season with the Canucks because Jacob Markstrom was injured in late February. Markstrom has played strong since the qualifiers with a record of 3-1, 2.27 goals-against average a .926 save percentage. Where the Blues can capitalize in this series is with their size. The Blues on average have a six-pound weight advantage over the Canucks’ young squad. The schedules for the first round were expected to be announced Sundau evening and at that point we will know how long the Blues will have to get back to 100 percent.