Round one of two, the second comes Wednesday, on just how tough and heavy the St. Louis Blues might be compared to the Vancouver Canucks.
It was a big, heavy Blues team that beat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final three years ago and many of the pieces remain. Even their team sniper Vladimir Tarasenko is called ‘The Tank’. They’ve also added a monster or two, like 6-foot-6, 225-pound, right wing Alexei Toropchenko.
Does bulk necessarily translate to intimidation and physical domination? Somehow the Vancouver Canucks had a few passengers along for the ride on Monday night.
“Heavy” didn’t really play a part. Hits were even at six, face-offs were 50-50, and shots were just 9-8 in favour of the Blues.
What made the difference was their intensity. St. Louis, off a series of slow starts and listless performances, knew they were facing a team on a roll and came out geared up. They dominated the scoring chances in the first period and created quite a bit of traffic around Canucks goalie Jaroslav Halak.
It’s another one of those phenomenon in the sport of hockey you can’t quantify: the approach to the start of a game and the emotional or psychological reasons behind it.
Although it resulted from an unlucky bounce off of Will Lockwood’s stick, and then off the shaft of Halak’s stick above the net to keep it alive, it’s telling that St. Louis’s first goal ended up with the scorer Marco Scandella standing on the goal line surrounded by five Canucks.
You’re definitely not going to push the Blues around.
Hits in the 2nd period were 9-5 in favour of the Blues and there were biggees. Justin Faulk on Lockwood comes to mind. But that total also stems from the fact St. Louis spent a good part of the period chasing Vancouver around the Blues D-zone and simply were trying to contain the cycle.
It was the Canucks best period without a doubt, but they never created the type of traffic in front of goalie Ville Husso they really needed.
Tarasenko took advantage of a Halak error and scored on his own rebound that shouldn’t have been a rebound. Halak knocked a puck that was going wide right back to the Blues goal scorer.
St. Louis, although they somehow managed to give up a 3-on-1 rush and a goal to the Canucks Brad Hunt, clamped things down the rest of the way and made traffic difficult.
They ended up winning the game 4-1 and out-hitting Vancouver 28-17. A team won’t necessarily win championships being just difficult to play against or just being heavy, but when you combine the two it’s a lethal combination.
“They’re a big team,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s a reason Minnesota went out and got the players they did, they knew they’d be playing St. Louis and that’s how they (the Blues) won the Cup. If you don’t come to play in a man’s game like it is when you play these guys you’re going to be in trouble.
“… win the battle of the boards and you usually succeed and these guys did that today and they won.”
Round two of the back-to-back test is on Wednesday at Rogers Arena.