St. Louis Blues vs Vancouver Canucks: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

St. Louis Blues vs Vancouver Canucks NHL Playoffs Round 1
St. Louis Blues vs Vancouver Canucks

In some ways, the Vancouver Canucks were outplayed in Friday night’s Game 6 victory over the St. Louis Blues. St. Louis had more shots and Vancouver blocked more Blues shot attempts than it actually put on the Blues goal. Yet it was Vancouver who made the most of its opportunities to take a commanding 4-0 lead through 40 minutes. The Canucks kept the Blues at distance for most of the night despite the onslaught, using solid defensive structure and great goaltending to knock out the defending champions.

Vancouver Canucks win 4-2

After Jordan Binnington backstopped the St. Louis Blues to the Stanley Cup last season, the goaltending was a big letdown this year. Between Binnington and Jake Allen, the Blues tandem could not make enough stops to slow down the Vancouver Canucks in this series. Jacob Markstrom was the far better goalie both in terms of save percentage and timely stops, and as a result it is the Canucks who advance to the next round. Vancouver also did an excellent job adapting as St. Louis tried to be more physical and the Canucks found ways to let their speed and skill shine.

Game 1

August 12th, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

It was an incredibly frustrating round robin for the St. Louis Blues, who fell from the top seed in the Western Conference down to the fourth for the NHL playoffs. The Blues scored a pair of tight 2-1 games to sandwich an ugly 6-4 loss, relegating them to a battle with the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. The seventh-seeded Canucks won three straight after dropping the opening game of the qualifying series to eliminate the Minnesota Wild.

Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Dallas was definitely the low point of the round robin for the Blues after St. Louis mustered a measly 23 shots in 65 minutes of action. The Blues should have confidence in both of their goalies, who both had one great game in goal during the round robin, but the offense is a problem. The Blues scored four goals against Vegas, but the Golden Knights put six past Jordan Binnington. Otherwise, they’ve been bottled up by both Colorado and Dallas.

Vancouver showed plenty of resilience in skating past the Wild. The Canucks adjusted after being blanked in the first game and responded with two quality games to take the lead. In the decisive fourth game, Vancouver rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second period than scored late in the third to force overtime before winning the series in the extra session. Rookies defenseman Quinn Hughes was sensational with six points and nine different players scored to help spread the offense throughout the lineup.

As the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Blues should be favored in this series, and the NHL betting sites in New Jersey agree. St. Louis is -200 to win the series and advance past Vancouver, but it certainly won’t be easy. The Canucks won’t be able to exploit the Blues like Vegas did, but if St. Louis can’t find an answer on offense, Vancouver will hang around and it has shown a capacity to come up clutch in the big moments to win tight games.

In terms of the opening game of this series, it’s hard to project what will happen. St. Louis had excellent goaltending for two of the three games in the round robin, but its offense only exploded when its goalie struggled. Vancouver looked good against Minnesota, but the Blues are a vastly different team than the Wild. Ultimately, the better team should win the opening game, and despite their struggles, that’s still the Blues, who are favored at -154 to win.

BET ON ST. LOUIS BLUES TO WIN

Game 2 (Vancouver Canucks lead 1-0)

August 14th, 6:30 p.m., Rogers Place

The beauty of sports is that it’s never about how many chances you create, it’s about what you do when those opportunities present themselves. In the case of the Vancouver Canucks, they didn’t have a lot of shots on Jordan Binnington on Wednesday night, but they scored on five of them and took control of their series against the St. Louis Blues. Vancouver scored three times on six power plays and did enough to stymie the Blues to continue its surge through the NHL playoffs.

Vancouver put just 22 shots on net, had twice as many giveaways as St. Louis and put just 18 hits on Blues players. Yet, the Canucks blocked 18 shots, showed great puck movement on the power play, and found the openings to exploit the Blues. The Canucks never trailed in the game and ramped up the pressure in the third period with the three goals that decided the game in the end. It was the type of performance teams need in the playoffs in order to build the momentum and confidence required to advance to the next round.

What ultimately doomed St. Louis, however, was a rough night from Binnington, who likely wants the Canucks’ third and fourth goals back. He stopped just 17 of the 22 shots that made it to him, and failed to stop some tougher angle shots that gave Vancouver its cushion in the third period. But the Blues also put Vancouver on the power play six times, and the Canucks converted on three of those chances. St. Louis also once again struggled with its offense despite throwing 31 shots on net.

The Blues were once again installed as the favorites for Game 2 by the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, but it’s a tough ask to bet on St. Louis given its recent form. I fully expect St. Louis will play better Friday and the Blues realize that they are running out of time to play their game. But this Canucks group is really confident right now and Jacob Markstrom looks like a goalie in form at the moment. So I’ll pick Vancouver at +112 on the moneyline to get the job done again in Game 2.

BET ON VANCOUVER CANUCKS TO WIN

Game 3 (Vancouver Canucks lead 2-0)

August 16th, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

The momentum from a tying goal in the final seconds was quickly erased in overtime by another sensational play by Bo Horvat. The Vancouver Canucks captain weaved his way through three defenders to score the game’s opening goal shorthanded then he snuck behind the St. Louis defense and beat Jordan Binnington five-hole to end Friday’s Game 2. The Blues have now dropped all five games it has played since the season resumed while Vancouver has won five of its six games in the NHL playoffs.

Vancouver has used its skill advantage well in this series, but it has been equally as impressive protecting Jacob Markstrom in net. The goalie turned aside 34 of the 37 shots that reached him, but the Canucks blocked another 25 shots from ever reaching Markstrom. Once again Vancouver was severely outshot in Friday’s game, but the Canucks were able to make the most of their 25 shots on the St. Louis net. They scored twice on three power plays and used their speed to put the Blues in a lot of tough defensive situations throughout the game.

The Blues started to play much better once they began using their body more and making the Canucks pay a physical price for making plays. St. Louis levied 41 hits on Vancouver in Friday’s game, which will start to take a toll on the Canucks if the Blues continue to play its physical, grinding style. However, the physicality isn’t enough to completely neutralize Vancouver’s speed advantage, so the Blues need to find a way to better control that so that the Canucks aren’t blitzing past them on the rush and creating dangerous scoring chances on goal.

It was clear that St. Louis’ heavy game was taking its toll on Vancouver in the second and third periods, and that has a lasting effect as well. The Blues are going to commit to playing a physical brand of hockey in hopes of jumpstarting something in this series. While I don’t agree that St. Louis should be favored by the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, I do think the Blues will win Game 4 at -132 odds.

BET ON ST. LOUIS BLUES TO WIN

 

Game 4 (Vancouver Canucks lead 2-1)

Monday, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

The St. Louis Blues earned a much-needed overtime victory to pull closer to the Vancouver Canucks in their NHL playoffs series. It started with much better goaltending from Jake Allen, who stopped 39 of 41 shots, but the Blue also turned up the heat on the Canucks in the offensive zone. St. Louis had 49 shots on Jacob Markstrom and Vancouver had to block another 30 attempts from reaching its goaltender.

Once again, the Canucks had success with using their speed through the neutral zone to set up their two goals in the game, but they also added a physical element as well. Vancouver only had one fewer hit in the game than St. Louis, and weren’t fazed by the Blues increased physicality in Game 3. The Canucks didn’t allow St. Louis to get a single shot through to Markstrom on two power plays, while J.T. Miller tallied while up a man for Vancouver in another special teams victory for Vancouver.

The Blues did a good job at creating more offense for themselves Sunday, but Markstrom was once again up to the task most of the time. The real difference for St. Louis was Allen, who looked more controlled and poised in net while stopping 39 shots. The calm in net is going to be vital moving forward for St. Louis, which has an excellent chance to tie the series Monday night.

However, the Canucks have continued to put a lot of pressure on St. Louis with their speed, and that might be the difference in another tight game. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey might make the Blues the favorites, but the Canucks still look like the better team in this series, and I expect they’ll move one game closer to taking out the defending champions Monday.

BET ON VANCOUVER CANUCKS TO WIN

Game 5 (Series tied 2-2)

August 19th, 10:30 p.m., Rogers Place

I’m not sure the St. Louis Blues could have scripted a better game than the one they played Monday in Game 4 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues held a 37-23 advantage in shots, worked their way to the greasy areas to score goals, dominated the special teams battle and just controlled the play for most of the 60 minutes. It was the perfect way to build off their win in Game 3 and turn the best-of-seven NHL playoffs series into a best-of-three now.

Vancouver will be able to learn a lot from this game, especially when it comes to how to make their speed a factor once again in the series. The Canucks went scoreless on seven power plays, managing just eight shots while up a man, and allowed St. Louis to score on two of its power-play chances. What is most concerning right now for the Canucks is the fact they attempted only 38 shots in Game 4, nearly half of which were blocked, and allowed St. Louis to take 37 cracks at Jacob Markstrom.

St. Louis’ offensive breakthrough was vital, but it all started with its success on special teams. Not only the seven penalty kills, which are big momentum boosts, but taking 13 shots across the five power plays and scoring twice. The Blues are going to take some penalties with their aggressive and physical style of play, so the confidence to kill those off is vital. Just as important is the confidence built from seeing the puck go in the net, something St. Louis wasn’t doing much early in the restart.

Game 5 is going to be the turning point in this series, as is expected in a series deadlocked at 2. It’s really a battle for the soul of this series and which style of play is going to win out. The fact the Blues are playing with so much confidence and grit at the moment leads me to believe they can get the job done Wednesday. The odds are good enough from the NHL betting sites in New Jersey with St. Louis being offered at -143 to win the game and +114 to do so in regulation.

BET ON ST. LOUIS BLUES TO WIN

 

Game 6 (Vancouver Canucks lead 3-2)

August 21st, 9:45 p.m., Rogers Place

The statistics say that the St. Louis Blues carried the play for much of Wednesday’s Game 5 against the Vancouver Canucks, and the eye test probably yielded a similar result. But it was the Canucks who scored more goals and now own the precious 3-2 lead in the series after surviving the onslaught. The Blues had a 39-30 edge in shots and had 15 other attempts blocked as they won 60 percent of the faceoffs and dished out 42 hits. However, the Canucks did level 38 hits of their own and forced St. Louis to block 26 shots, so it was more even than it appeared.

After losing two straight games, the pressure was on Vancouver when St. Louis took a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Yet the Canucks were able to battle back and end the period with a 4-3 advantage, which they then held onto for the entire third period. That’s the type of performance in the final 30 minutes of a game that will change the momentum of this series. Vancouver now has the confidence to be able to beat the Blues’ congestion in the neutral zone that gave it so many problems in Games 3 and 4.

Despite the loss, St. Louis has to be feeling confident that it has found its identity again as a team. The Blues are suffocating the Canucks with that congestion in the neutral zone and limiting how often the Canucks can use their speed to attack. Vancouver did score on the few times it was able to attack with speed, but for the most part the Blues dominated the play and dictated the pace of the game. This is a veteran group that won’t panic about being a game away from elimination and will continue to stick to what has been working

From the beginning of this series, this was one of the few that had seven games written all over it. Vancouver adjusted in the second half of Game 5 to St. Louis’ physicality and grit, but the Blues are the defending champions for a reason. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey list the Blues as the favorite at -134 odds to win. It’s not great value, per se, but it’s the most comfortable bet I could take on St. Louis forcing a Game 7 this weekend.

BET ON ST. LOUIS BLUES TO WIN

 

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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