Vancouver Canucks – St. Louis Blues Playoff Preview
Season Series- Two wins – Two losses per team
Can you feel that boulder on your shoulders, Vancouver Canucks players? Those are the expectations’ of the city of Vancouver and province of British Columbia, as by capturing the number 3 seed, you are now expected to have a lengthy playoff run. Contrast that with the St. Louis Blues, who have no expectations, as they were expected to contend for the John Tavares sweepstakes at the beginning of the season.
Let’s break this series down:
The Canucks are led by arguably the best goaltender in the NHL, Roberto Luongo. With Luongo having suffered a mid-season injury, he is now more rested than he normally is entering this part of the season. His 54 games played are his fewest since the 2003-04 season, but his wins (33), save percentage (.920) and goals against average (2.34) are prototypical Luongo
The Blues counter Luongo’s experience with “un-tested in the playoffs”, Chris Mason. Since starting the season 3-13-1, he has gone 17-6-3 and been one of the best goalies in the 2nd half of the season. He has a comparable save percentage to Luongo (.916) and a goals against average of (2.41).
As if having one of the best goaltenders of his era in nets wasn’t enough, the Canucks boast a defensive corps with impressive depth. Led by Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler, the Canucks had 5 defenseman with at least 20 points. Lest you be concerned with Edler and Bieksa’s youth, veterans Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund should off-set whatever nerves the young players may have.
If the defenseman that the St. Louis Blues anticipated opening the season with, were actually available, than they might be able to compare positively with the Canucks. Unfortunately, the Blues troubles on the back-end began with Erik Johnson tearing up his knee in the off-season, and were only compounded with Eric Brewer’s season ending injury. Since then, the Blues patchwork defense led by Barret Jackman, and Carlo Colaiacovo, have done a yeoman’s job. While not flashy, and not especially offensive minded, they pride themselves on making a strong first pass, and defensive responsibility
Much like their counterparts on the back-end, the Canucks forward corps are blessed with impressive skill, and impressive depth. They are led by the Swedish twins, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. One of the twins led the Canucks in every major offensive category. To say they are the catalyst of the offense would be an understatement. That’s not to say they are the only weapons on the offensive side, as Alex Burrows scored twenty eight goals on the year, and that was coupled with the career offensive year from Ryan Kesler. Oh yeah, did I mention some other Swedish guy named Mats Sundin?
The St Louis Blues are very youthful up front, as four of their top six forwards are twenty six and under. The team is led by 33 goal scorer, Brad Boyes, and second is twenty four year old David Backes. In addition on the youth front, the Blues got valuable contributions from David Perron and Patrik Berglund, neither of whom have reached the age of twenty one. Much like the Canucks with Sundin, the Blues have reliable veteran Keith Tkachuk who just turned 37, Andy MacDonald who has had a strong second half, and additionally may be fortunate enough to get injured Paul Kariya back sometime in the first round.
2006-07 Jack Adams winner Alain Vigneault boasts one of the best all time winning percentages for a Canucks coach. Unfortunately, that has not translated to playoff success for the Vancouver fans, as he is two games below 500 in playoff games with the Canucks. On the special team side, the Canucks can best be described as middling, as they have a success rate similar to my GPA as it falls right smack in the middle of the curve.
Perennially underrated coach Andy Murray, leads the St. Louis Blues into the playoffs. This will be Murray’s first playoff foray since he lead a similarly inexperienced Kings squad into the playoffs, where they gave the heavily favoured Colorado Avalanche a huge scare, losing in seven games. The Blues boast a top ten power play, with a 20.5 percent success rate and a top three penalty killing unit, with a 83.8 percent kill rate.
Edge: St. Louis Blues
Prediction: Canucks in 7. The Canucks, on paper, should win in fewer games. I don’t know if it the weight of the expectations on them, their youth, or their middle-of-the-pack special teams, but the St. Louis Blues are a dangerous team, with nothing to lose, and led by a head-coach who has performed miracles just getting them into this position. Can one more miracle occur? I suspect the Blues will fall just short.