Blues vs. Canucks, Round One: Be Careful What You Wish For
Last Friday night the St. Louis Blues clinched their first postseason slot since 2004. All around, St. Louis fans could be heard saying "I don't care where we finish, as long as we don't have to play Detroit."
Well, Blues fans got their wish Sunday as the team finished the regular season with a 1-0 shutout of Western Conference doormat Colorado.
In doing so, the team vaulted into sixth place and earned a first round match-up with the Vancouver Cauncks—a team who is equally as hot as the Blues down the stretch, and with arguably the leagues best goaltender.
The Blues are the NHL's feel good story of the postseason. Left for dead as recently as mid-January, the Blues fought and scratched their way up the standings and have proven they can play with the pressure on them.
During the teams run from 15th to sixth, the Blues faced the Canucks four times, emerging with a 2-2 record.
The Blues can no doubt hold their own against the Canucks. However, they should not consider themselves lucky that they drew Vancouver in the first round over a Detroit team that, despite dominating the Blues over the season, ended the season losing seven of their last nine games.
The Canucks are just as hot as the Blues, losing just seven times in regulation over their last 32 games. The Canucks also have one of the leagues best goaltenders in Roberto Luongo. Despite all the praise that Luongo receives, he remains unproven in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Spending his early years in Florida, Vancouver traded for him a few seasons ago, and have yet to advance out of the first round with Luongo in goal.
Vancouver also brings two lines of potent offense to the table.
The Sedin twins have been playing as if they share a common brain leading to some magnificent goals and plays for Canucks fans all season. In addition, they also have veterans Mats Sundin, and former St. Louis Blue Pavol Demetra, who are no stranger to playoff hockey. Andy Murray will have to decide which line he wishes to use his lock down line against. Leaving the other to have more freedom to skate.
On the other side of the ice, the St. Louis Blues certainly appear to be a team of destiny this season.
The Blues had every reason they needed not to make the playoffs this year. With key injury to second-year Blue liner Erik Johnson and the early season losses of captain Eric Brewer and last year's leading scorer Paul Kariya, many teams could have packed it in for the season.
Not the Blues. They found heroes in players like Keith Tkachuk (one of two Blues to be left from the teams last trip into the playoffs), as well as David Backes, who was signed to an offseason offer sheet by the Canucks following the end of the '08 season.
It took the Blues less than one hour to match the offer.
The Blues also found great scoring from rookie sensations TJ Oshie and Patrik Burglund. The most unlikely hero came in the form of offseason acquisition, Chris Mason.
While at the time, many Blues fans wondered why the team would trade for a back up goalie that was making more than Manny Legace, Mason would soon answer that question by putting the Blues on his back and carrying them down the stretch night after night.
Both teams are on fire entering the first round, which starts Wednesday night in Vancouver.
Both teams have stellar goal tending, and fast, skilled goal scorers. These teams match up extremely evenly on paper, and should deliver a fantastic playoff series for their fans.
These Blues have overachieved all season. Can this team keep the feel good story and write another chapter? Or will Vancouver finally achieve playoff success?
I wouldn't bet against the Blues.
In what could be considered a sign from above, TJ Oshie won nhl.com's Goal of the Year award last night for his magnificent goal against the Canucks.
Every story has its lovable upstart, its beat the odds story. So after 25 years of consecutive playoff appearances that yielded nothing higher than a Western Conference Finals appearance, it seems only fitting this team could be the one that might finally bring home Lord Stanley's Cup.
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