With the series shifting back to St. Louis now and Vancouver leading two games to none, expect the line-matching strategy of Blues coach Andy Murray to become even more of a factor.
The concept of having checking center Jay McClement and defenseman Barret Jackman out on the ice as much as possible when the Sedin twins are skating will only intensify when St. Louis gets the final line change at home.
So far, the matching mostly worked, as McClement and Jackman – along with blueliner Roman Polak – played some of the most inspired hockey for the Blues. The Sedins did get on the scoreboard once again in Game 2, but you can’t fault McClement for an empty-netter, meaning the twins’ assists on linemate Alex Burrows’ second period goal was the only blemish.
The real decider in this series now becomes the other prominent skaters on the ice. For Vancouver, that means the Mats Sundin-Pavol Demitra-Ryan Kesler troika and for the Blues, veteran scorers such as Andy McDonald and Keith Tkachuk, neither of whom affected the series very positively in Vancouver.
The vaunted St. Louis kid line (Patrik Berglund, David Perron and T.J. ‘The Mayor’ Oshie) did work out those first-game jitters in terms of confidence by bringing a lot of dangerous offensive action in Game 2, but really only contributed chances and a too-many-men penalty for their own team to kill off.
But here’s where we go back to McDonald and Tkachuk: it’s their job to get the Blues offense on track. Goalie Chris Mason can’t win this series himself. McDonald has a Stanley Cup and a Cup final under his belt from his days in Anaheim, while Tkachuk has at least been to the playoffs, even if he hasn’t exactly been a wunderkind when he gets there lately. What Tkachuk is however, is a big dude who can usually score pretty consistently and he needs to do that in the middle of April just as he did at the beginning of the month.
McDonald got his opportunities in Game 2 and besides hitting posts, also ran into Roberto Luongo in net. In the second period, King Louie was unbeatable; he was practically in The Matrix. This naturally does not bode well for St. Louis heading back to The Loop.
But Vancouver can’t waste the good will of their goaltender-captain. Getting a goal from Sundin, he of the gnarly blood-bruised eye, was important, even if linemate Demitra’s compete level wasn’t too inspiring most of the game.
Luongo and Blues counterpart Mason have ensured this series will be well-tended in net, so the difference between a win and a loss is likely always going to revolve around who scores first.
The Canucks know they can get a goal per game from the Sedin line, but would be well served to expect the same from the Sundin line. If the Blues are to make a series of this (and remember – no one’s truly ahead until they win on the road), they need McDonald to start missing posts and finding mesh and getting something from Tkachuk.
If the Blues can get that, their playoff newbies – from the kid line to Brad Boyes and David Backes – will find their offensive stride as well.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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