The final matchup in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to start displays a battle of youth vs. experience. The St. Louis Blues come into this postseason as the defending Stanley Cup champions while the Vancouver Canucks are an up-and-coming team full of young stars playing in their first playoff series.
The Canucks have gone through a rebuilding phase since their last playoff appearance in 2015. Daniel and Henrik Sedin, long-time members of the Canucks, retired in 2018 and since then, the core has transformed into a youthful but productive core. This is highlighted by the top eight scorers for the Canucks in the regular season being all under 27-years old. The top two scorers are Elias Pettersson with 63 points and Quinn Hughes with 55.
The Canucks’ young core got their first taste of playoff experience in the qualifier round against the veteran-led Minnesota Wild. After getting shut out 3-0 in Game 1, the Canucks would score 12 goals in their next three games, winning all three games and winning the series 3-1. This included a Game 3, 3-0 shutout of the Wild thanks to 27 saves from goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
The Canucks will play another veteran-led team but this one is on another level: the defending Stanley Cup champions in the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games during last year’s Stanley Cup Finals to capture their first-ever Stanley Cup. This was an impressive run considering they were last in the Western Conference in January and fired their coach.
With the pressure off the team to win their first cup, the Blues played this regular season loose, accumulating 94 points before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended play, the most in the Western Conference. Winger Vladimir Tarasenko spent most of the season injured but a balanced roster more than made up for it. Five players scored over 50 points in the regular season and goaltender Jordan Binnington, a rookie who took over midseason and helped lead the Blues to the championship last year, had a .912 save percentage (SV%).
Their hopes to repeat took a hit in the round-robin tournament as they lost all three games, including a loss to the Colorado Avalanche where Nazem Kadri scored a buzzer-beater goal to defeat the Blues 2-1. Despite having the most points in the Western Conference in the regular season, they enter the playoffs as the four seed.
If I am a Vancouver Canucks fan, I am ecstatic about the future of the team and I believe they will be Stanley Cup contenders in a year or two. However, this year is not the year as the core is still young and developing. The Blues have too much experience and with Tarasenko fully healthy, I expect the Blues to rebound from their disappointment in the round-robin tournament and take this series easily.
Prediction: Blues in 5