Anybody that watched the St. Louis Blues in the Round Robin games and the first two games of the best-of-seven series against the Vancouver Canucks would not be surprised to hear that the reigning Stanley Cup champs are on the brink of elimination. With how the tide turned for Games 3 and 4, though, it seemed as though the champs found their stride.
Then they were stopped in their tracks in Game 5. No game is a must-win until you face elimination and the St. Louis Blues have a must-win situation on Friday night against the Vancouver Canucks. It looks as though the betting markets are not ready to see St. Louis’s playoff push end, as the Blues are up to a -140 favorite at BetDSI Sportsbook. That means +120 on the other side for Vancouver. The total is 5 with the over at -135 for what could be the deciding game.
For the first time since Game 1, the Canucks outscored the Blues at 5-v-5. They had three goals to St. Louis’s two. For the first time in the series, the Canucks had more scoring chances than the Blues at 5-v-5. Vancouver trailed 3-1 after Zach Sanford’s power play goal 5:51 into the second period, but then something changed.
The Canucks scored three goals in just over six minutes to finish out the second period and pitched a third period shutout to get the win. Whether St. Louis got complacent with the lead or Vancouver just hit a second gear is up for some debate, but many took to social media to praise the work of Canucks head coach Travis Green. The bench got a little bit shorter. The shifts got a little bit longer and a little more frequent. The lines got juggled. It all worked.
What also worked was the play of Jacob Markstrom. Markstrom stopped 36 of 39 shots to put the Blues on the brink of elimination and the Canucks on the brink of a major upset. Markstrom has been spectacular in this series. Win or lose, he had a career year and followed it up with a strong postseason. He’s stopped 179 of 193 shots in the series and stopped 112 of 121 shots in the Qualifying Round series. He has given the Canucks confidence at every turn.
The goaltending situation for St. Louis has been the opposite. Jake Allen outplayed Jordan Binnington during the regular season, but Binnington got the call to start the series after a shaky Round Robin performance. After two games with an .809 SV%, Allen went in and played very well in St. Louis’s two wins. He allowed four goals on 30 shots in Game 5.
Now you really have to wonder about Allen going into Game 6. He has had some shaky moments in the playoffs in the past. He was terrific in the 2016-17 postseason, but had issues in both 2014-15 and especially 2015-16. If the Canucks have truly cracked the code to generate more 5-v-5 offense, then Allen is the last line of defense and the most important one in Game 6.
The series really turned when the Blues buttoned up their special teams. They allowed a shorthanded goal in Game 2 and allowed five power play goals in the first two games of the series. The Canucks had a shorty in Game 5 that opened the scoring. St. Louis just hasn’t been consistent enough in this series in any game situation. The Canucks have taken advantage, which is exactly what upset-minded teams need to do.
The problem here in Game 6 is that St. Louis’s best, which we should get in an elimination game, is better than Vancouver’s best. Markstrom would have to be a clear-cut difference maker if the Blues get back to being the dominant offensive team they were in Game 3 or the stifling defensive team they were in Game 4.
Will they do either of those things, though? That is the question. To this point, they haven’t shown that they can be the more consistent of the two teams.
To me, I think the better play instead of a side is to play the over 5 at the heavily juiced -135. The Blues are going to have to push offensively. They’ll have to answer Vancouver’s offensive effort from the last game. Allen also showed some cracks in the armor and the Canucks played with some extra speed in Game 6, so they should get their chances.
Pick: Over 5 (-135)