By Patrick Kelly
After what has already been a crazy first round in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues finally get a crack at do or die hockey. The Blues open their seven-game series in the bubble with the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday at 9:30 pm. While the Blues haven’t looked like their normal selves a good game put forward would erase all of that. As the round robin went on, the Blues’ game as a team and as individuals got better and peaked against the Vegas Golden Knights with strong games from some of the team’s top players.
The Blues will still be without Ivan Barbashev as he is still in St. Louis with his wife and new baby. Barbashev is expected to come back to the bubble on Thursday but will have to be quarantined and tested a few times before he is cleared to play. Barbashev being out gives the Blues’ bubble players a chance to prove their worth in the playoffs as Sammy Blais did last year. Speaking of Blais, he was injured in the second period of the Blues game against the Golden Knights, returned for a shift but as of Wednesday was still questionable for Game 1. If Blais is unable to play it would seem either Troy Brouwer or Jordan Kyrou will get a crack at the lineup.
The Blues’ dominance in this series starts with the goaltending. Jordan Binnington has more than proven he is a playoff goaltender and just like in Game 1 against the Winnipeg Jets in 2019, he has the ability to set the tone early. On the other side. the Canucks have rocked with Jacob Markstrom during the playoffs and will stay with the hot hand. As Andy Strickland said on The Cam Janssen Show, the Canucks have “very underrated goaltending” and if Markstrom falters for whatever reason they have Thatcher Demko to back him up. He had the Blues’ number this year.
Lastly, the Blues’ top players have to be their best players. David Perron opened the scoring in the bubble for the Blues but has been quiet since despite being one of the team’s go-to goal scorers. If the Blues’ main guys can step up in this series and impose their will on a much smaller and younger team, then there is no reason why the Blues’ experience and skill shouldn’t trump Vancouver.