Heading into this playoff pandemic bubble-palooza, the Canucks were looked at as a coin toss to get out of the Play-in round against a Minnesota team that was supposed to stifle their offence and grind out a win, and following a shutout in Game 1, it looked very much like this whole thing was going to be over quickly, and looked at as “experience for the young core of the team moving forward”. Travis Green and the Vancouver Canucks have outright rejected that notion, and since winning 3 straight to dispatch the Wild, have now ended the hopes of back to back Cups for last year’s Champs.
After they took a 2-0 series lead, Blues coach Craig Berube made a goaltending change, taking out Jordan Binnington and replacing him with Jake Allen, and in Games 3 and 4, he was solid as they were able to get back on even terms. Heading into Game 5, the Canucks had to make some fundamental changes in the way they approached this St Louis team. and especially the Ryan O’Reilly line. That meant sacrificing their top line and coming up with some different line combinations to try and get certain players away from the smothering defensive play of O’Reilly. That, and they’d have to have other players step up and contribute.
In Game 5, it was Tyler Motte and Jake Virtanen stepping up with big games, helping the Canucks overcome a 3-1 St Louis lead with 3 goals in a Six and a half minute span in the 2nd period. Last night, there were a couple other guys who needed to check in, and early in the first, Jay Beagle, one of the few Canucks with a Stanley Cup ring got things going with his 1st goal of the playoffs. The Canucks were the better team in that first period, though they did have to withstand a furious St Louis pushback where it seemed like they were constantly in the Canucks zone. They came out of the period with the 1-0 lead, and they would need another 2nd period like they had Wednesday night if they were going to pull this off.
After the Blues started strong, a turnover at the blue line sent Beagle and Antoine Roussel in and the Fiesty Frenchman made no mistake, giving the Canucks the 2 goal lead. Just under 5 minutes later, it was another goal from the back end as Troy Stecher wired one past Binnington to make it 3-0. A couple minutes later, the Canucks got their first power play of the game, and Brock Boeser made them pay with his first of the series, and the damage was done.
The Blues would get one past Jacob Markstrom early in the 3rd, but Tyler Motte notched his 3rd of the series, and after Jaden Schwartz scored his second of the night, Motte’s empty netter in the final minute sealed it for a 6-2 win.
First, let’s talk about the coaching job from Travis Green and company. When the Blues had this series tied up, all the discussion was how the Blues were showing their true form and that they had the Canucks on the ropes. And to be fair, it looked like they had no answer for O’Reilly, David Perron and Schwartz. So Greener pulls out the line blender and next thing you know, it’s the Blues who are struggling to figure out the Canucks. They found ways to exploit a pretty good St Louis defensive structure, using their speed and skill, taking the punishment from a heavy hitting Blues squad and making the most of their opportunities. This was an absolutely masterful job of coaching by Green, and you can tell that to a man, every single player has bought in.
Next, is the performance of Jacob Markstrom. Despite putting up an impressive regular season campaign, many thought that the Blues would have the advantage because of their experience in last year’s Cup run against playoff rookie Markstrom. And even in the two losses, Markstrom kept his team in those games, giving them a chance to win. He’s picked up where he left off before getting hurt back in the regular season, and he’s a huge reason behind this impressive victory. After dropping 2 straight, Marky stopped 36 St Louis shots in Games 5 and 6 for the wins, and never gave up more than 3 goals in any one game. This is the kind of goaltending you need for playoff success, and the Canucks are getting it.
They really needed the depth players to respond, and when you look at what they did in these two games, it’s really kind of jaw-dropping. Tyler Motte with 4 goals. Brandon Sutter with 4 assists including 3 in Friday night’s win. Two point games from Jay Beagle and Jake Virtanen as well as the goal from Roussel. After Bo Horvat steamrolled the Blues in the first two games, they did a good job of neutralizing him, as he turned his attention to a shut-down mentality against the Blues stars. The Bottom 6 stepped up and ended the Blues time in the bubble, and what a huge confidence boost for this team that must be.
Defensively, the Canucks are playing well despite the loss of Tyler Myers and missing Alexander Edler for a good chunk of Game 5. Thankfully, Edler was good to go for Game 6, and they responded to a man with some solid work, frustrating the Blues shooters all night long, and to see guys like Oscar Fantenberg and Jordie Benn out there playing as strong as they did was downright inspiring.
And it’s not just the guys on the back end, either. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson’s two way play in this series was sublime. When Travis Green was asked if he was concerned about Boeser not scoring, this is why. His contributions were far greater than the score sheet, though it was good to see him pot one last night. You need guys to be able to do these kinds of things, and in a physical, grinding series Boeser, Pettersson and the Canucks were impressive.
So, a day of rest now before the next giant to slay as they take on the heavily favoured Vegas Golden Knights. This improbable run could come to a screeching halt, but with Tyler Toffoli possibly returning to the lineup, and Myers not far from his return, the Canucks head into this confident that they can give the Golden Knights a fight. They’re not here for a participation trophy. They’ve come to do what other Canucks teams couldn’t and it’s incredible to watch.
Round 2 gets underway tonight with just one game, as the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche kick off their series. The Avs made easy work of the Arizona Coyotes in Round 1, while the Stars are fresh off a 6 game series win over the Calgary Flames. Sunday night will feature the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by Game 1 of the Canucks and Vegas. We’ll have full pregame coverage and our game thread, as well as Sippin’ On A 40 and postgame wraps, as always. The Canucks are massive underdogs heading into the 2nd round, and I think they like it that way.