The First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins August 11. Before the NHL postseason resumes play, PHT will preview each of the eight opening round matchups, including Blues vs. Canucks.
1. Greed could be a big-time motivation for big-time Blues and Canucks
No doubt, Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo ranks as the player with the most money to gain or lose in this series, at least if free agent bidders put a lot of stock in postseason play. Even so, Pietrangelo is far from alone.
Jacob Markstrom solidified himself with a crucial season for the Canucks, but the 30-year-old faces an uncertain future, and a fairly goalie-rich market. Christopher Tanev doesn’t know if he’ll be back with Vancouver, either. Tyler Toffoli‘s another player who could see some serious variance.
Heck, Elias Pettersson might also want to be proactive, so while his rookie deal runs through 2020-21, the budding Canucks superstar may just want to sign an extension after this run. (Would that be wise? Debatable, but Pettersson may emphasize peace of mind over maximum bucks.)
[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
2. Experience for Blues
Sometimes “experience” gets thrown around even for honestly pretty mediocre veteran players who are sometimes just there. It’s a little different when you’re talking about veteran stars who can still actually play, though.
The Blues are brimming with battle-tested players who aren’t past their prime. While Pietrangelo is 30, Ryan O'Reilly, Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and other key players haven’t celebrated The Big 3-0 just yet. These are players who’ve shut down some of the league’s best players, including making life miserable for “The Perfect Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.
While Elias Pettersson & Co. showed they can score against a stingy Wild team, the Blues represent an enormous jump in difficulty. Along with being stingy themselves, these Blues players can test opponents on offense. That’s a potentially harrowing situation for a Canucks team accustomed to “outscoring their problems.”
3. Youth movement for Canucks
Then again, experience can’t account for everything. A dynamic Canucks team could very well leave the savviest of veterans and grayest of graybeards huffing and puffing to keep up.
There’s something to be said for having younger legs. For every 21-year-old Robert Thomas the Blues can roll out, the Canucks have more. And let’s face it: Quinn Hughes might be 20, but most veterans would envy his poise.
Maybe Elias Pettersson and others will be too “inexperienced” to realize they’re supposed to be nervous? Or perhaps they can merely out-skate and out-skill those nerves?
4. Two potent power plays
The Canucks scored an impressive 57 power-play goals during the regular season, which tied them for second in the NHL — and that’s with 69 games played (The Oilers scored 59 PPG, but in 71 GP). That would lead you to believe that the Canucks’ power play could stand as a big advantage over most NHL teams.
But what if they draw more or less the same number of penalties as the Blues? The Blues’ power play was actually marginally more efficient (24.3 percent to 24.2 for Vancouver), so they might be able to strike even (or close to even) on special teams. Especially since the two teams boasted fairly similar penalty kill units in 2019-20.
It should be fascinating to see if one (or both) of these teams convert that work to this First Round series. From the Canucks’ perspective, they might need to win that battle at least a few times to make this series interesting.
5. Prediction: Blues in 5
Look, the Canucks could channel some magic (especially on the power play) to upset the Blues. Or at least make it longer than a five-game series. That’s especially possible if the Blues meander into the First Round.
Overall, though, it just seems like the Blues are too deep, too defensively adept, and potent enough offensively to trade blows here and there when/if things break down. Jacob Markstrom might need the best two weeks of his career to make this close.
(Then again, bubble hockey could get really weird, too.)
No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks
Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.