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GAME DAY PREVIEW- GAME 82: CANUCKS @ ST LOUIS

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At last, the sweet release that is the death of this season.

©2018 Kent Basky

It’s a bittersweet day for hockey fans today. First, we remember the 16 lives tragically lost one year ago today in the horrific bus accident that took members of the Humboldt Broncos. It shook this nation to the core, and the sporting world, if only for a moment, came together as one. Take a moment to remember the fallen today. We also say goodbye to an absolute legend of broadcasting, Bob Cole. Cole has been a part of some of hockey’s biggest moments over his incredible 50 year career, a unique voice whose character and timing made for so many memorable calls. I know it’s fashionable for some to bash him, but as someone who spent a childhood wanting to be one of these guys, I have a great deal of respect for his body of work. His call on Joe Sakic’s goal to seal the deal in Salt Like City (along with another legend, former Canucks head coach Harry Neal) still gives me chills. Thank you, Bob.

Vancouver Canucks (35-35-10) vs St Louis Blues (44-28-9)

Where: Enterprise Center, St Louis, MO

When: 1:00 pm PST

Where to Watch: SNP

SB Nation Opposition Blog: St Louis Game Time

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: It’s over. Thank merciful (insert deity if you are so inclined, here) it is over. Another season of losses, frustration and things not quite how we were promised. I know that as the years of this nonsense begin to pile up, the natural inclination is to look for any positives you can. To me, it feels like nothing more than lying to ourselves. This team is not better than last season. The scoring lost was merely accounted for by new and improving players, yet the Canucks will very likely end with the exact same number of goals this season. And in a stat that is probably the most damning of all, they trail only the Ottawa Senators for the least number of ROWs in the NHL. By one, heading into tonight’s action. To say that there’s been forward progress is a lie and I fail to see how anything can invalidate that.

Heading into the season, there was hope. Elias Pettersson was going to be a superstar. We had a slew of prospects on the farm and in collegiate ranks that was highly touted. The dark days were supposed to be coming to an end. Yet here we are, stuck with the possibility of not even picking in the top 10 of the draft we’re hosting, the farm team officially eliminated from the playoffs, and 2 more prospects having left for Europe, unhappy over their usage in Utica. This franchise is in grave danger of becoming the Edmonton Oilers. The rot is seeping in. Change has to come, sweeping change, or it may be a long time before they see another playoff game.

And through the darkness, a tweet that is, while somewhat vague, perhaps hinting that the change this team’s fans hunger for may finally be coming.

For all his faults, there’s one thing I can tell you about Francesco Aqualini: He wants to win as badly as any player on that ice. I saw him in the dressing room after Game 7. He looked as beaten and despondent as any of the skaters. And after another season of empty seats and no hockey in the middle of April, it could be that he’s ready for change, too.

It’s not that I want to downplay the good parts of the season. There was a lot of good stuff that went on this year, and their record certainly doesn’t indicate how much more entertaining the Canucks were to watch. A bitter pill, dipped in sugar. But for all of the excitement that Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Thatcher Demko bring, if they’re not surrounding them with players that can help them succeed, it is all for naught. Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Markus Granlund, Derek Pouliot; these are not players you win with. So much of the last couple years has seen a large portion of the faithful calling out for ‘the youth movement’, only to see the team repeatedly turning to veteran castoffs and reclamation projects, each one panning out exactly as predicted.

The Vancouver Canucks need to fundamentally change the way they approach the game, from every possible perspective. They cannot do this with the current regime. While I lay the least blame at the feet of the coaching staff, they’re not entirely blameless. They’ve done better with scouting, as Judd Brackett has erased years of missteps by Ron Delorme.

The biggest issue is free agents and trades that have been either washes or flat out losses, the actual wins by Jim Benning so few and far between that they’re celebrated far more than they should. After 5 years, it should be better than this. That they’ve gone from back to back Presidents Trophy wins and a 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals to 4 straight seasons missing the playoffs with as little to show prospect-wise as they have is simply unacceptable. This team is heading into their 50th year of existence. There’s going to be a new jersey design next year. It’s time for something new, so that I can see this wretched, cursed franchise finally get their name on that silver chalice before I leave this existence.

Today’s opponent is one of the few who not only understand our pain, but even have it worse. The only 1967 expansion team (save for the California Golden Seals) that has yet to win the Cup. They’ve had Finals appearances, albeit early in their existence. They’ve had teams some thought might be able to take that leap, but always fallen short. This year, they went from last place in the West to home ice in the first round, a pretty miraculous feat.

And there’s a lot to like about this team. They have a good mix of scoring and role player types, a solid defence core and have gotten some other-worldly goaltending from a 25 year old rookie. Jordan Binnington has been lights out (but let’s not kid ourselves, given the number of games he’s played this season, the NHL’s hockey writers will be embarrassing themselves mightily if they vote him as the Rookie Of The Year) for the Blues this season and a massive part of why they are where they are. They have some solid, veteran leadership in Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. They’re fairly healthy apart from towering defenceman Colton Parayko, who is listed as day to day and unlikely to play. They have 13 players who have hit double digits in goal scoring, and if you wanted to look at a dark horse to come out of the West, maybe throwing a few bucks down on the Blues isn’t a terrible idea.

Via the Province, here’s the possible lineups for the last game of the season:

CANUCKS’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Jake Virtanen — Elias Pettersson — Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson — Bo Horvat — Loui Eriksson

Ryan SpoonerAdam GaudetteJosh Leivo

Markus Granlund — Jay BeagleTim Schaller

Defence pairings

Alex Edler — Troy Stecher

Ben HuttonBrogan Rafferty

Quinn Hughes — Luke Schenn

Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko

BLUES’ LINES

LW – C – RW

Brayden SchennRyan O’Reilly — Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzOskar SundqvistDavid Perron

Patrick MaroonTyler BozakRobert Thomas

Robby FabbriIvan Barbashev — Alex Steen

Defence pairings

Vince Dunn — Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson — Jay Bouwmeester

Joel EdmundsonRobert Bortuzzo

Goalies: Jordan Binnington, Jake Allen

SICK BAY

Canucks: Brandon Sutter (sports hernia), Antoine Roussel (knee), Chris Tanev (foot)

Blues: Sammy Blais (ankle)

SPECIAL TEAMS

POWER PLAY

Canucks: 16.5% (25th)

Blues: 20.9% (9th).

PENALTY KILL

Canucks: 81.3% (11th)

Blues: 82.1% (6th).

GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN: The playoffs start next week, and we’ll have all kinds of debate on who should win, who will win, and tons more. But for the Canucks, it’s time to hit the lights. Thanks to all of you for enduring all of this with us this season. We are what we are because of you.