Once again it was proven that defending the Stanley Cup is usually quite a bit more difficult than winning it as the St. Louis Blues were ousted from the playoffs in the first round. The Vancouver Canucks did the damage as they took the best-of-seven set in six games. The Blues, who were seeded fourth in the West, were trounced 6-2 in the deciding game last week after posting a 0-2-1 mark in the round-robin section of the postseason qualifiers.
However, they were seeded first going into the qualifying round after going 42-19-10 in the regular season with a points percentage of .662. St. Louis dropped the first two games of the series with the Canucks with one coming in overtime before bouncing back to win the next two. They then blew a 3-1 lead in game five and were edged 4-3 before playing their worst game of the series in game six.
One of the reasons for the quick departure was the fact goaltender Jordan Binnington couldn’t save the day for his teammates like he did last season. He went 16-10 in the 2018-19 playoffs with a goals-against average and a save percentage of 91.4 but was 0-3 this time around while conceding 13 goals on just 65 shots for a save percentage of 80.0. He allowed six goals on 10 power-play chances and allowed nine goals against in the first two contests against Vancouver on 47 shots.
Jake Allen took over in the Blues’ crease for the next three outings and won two of them but losing game five. Head coach Craig Berube went back to Binnington for the sixth game but he allowed four goals on just 18 shots and was yanked and replaced by Allen at the 8:06 mark of the second frame. The Blues also suffered from too many turnovers in the series and injuries started to build up the longer it went.
St. Louis played game six without forwards Tyler Bozak, Vladimir Tarasenko, Troy Brouwer and Alexander Steen as well as defender Gunnarsson. The last time all five were in the lineup was in game two with Tarasenko leaving after the second encounter to have his injured shoulder checked out.
Next season’s St. Louis squad could look a little different as defenders Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents along with Brouwer. There are also several restricted free agents who need to be dealt with such as forwards Jacob de la Rose and Jake Walman as well as blue liners Vince Dunn, Austin Poganski and Derrick Pouliot.
The players who are signed for at least the next two seasons include forwards Tarasenko, Sammy Blais, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist and defencemen Colton Parayko, Marco Scandella and Justin Faulk. In addition, Binnington is also still under contract and he’ll be determined to bounce back next campaign.
He was fine during the 2019-20 regular season with a 30-13-7 record along in 50 starts with a 2.56 goals-against average, 91.2 save percentage and three shutouts. Allen is also a dependable netminder but both Allen and Binnington are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in June of 2021.
The Blues have the leadership and skill required to return to the playoffs again next season to challenge for the Stanley Cup and should be able to learn from the mistakes they made this postseason.