Before Thursday's entertaining tilt between the St. Louis Blues and the top-ranked Vancouver Canucks, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told us he was curious about how the Blues would respond in the second half now that they are regarded as not just a playoff contender, but a Cup contender.
The answer after watching the Blues' 3-2 overtime loss Thursday: the Blues look like a team that is "that" close. But what is close worth?
With a chance to move into a tie for first overall in the Western Conference, the Blues were just a little short. No shame in that.
Or maybe it was more a case of the Canucks being just a little taller.
No shame in that from a Canucks team that is now 7-2-1 in its past 10 games. Still, an interesting night all around and here's a look at how it played out:
One of the interesting elements of this matchup was the relative strengths of each team on display and how they contributed to the final outcome.
The Canucks rule when given the man advantage, leading the NHL in manpower efficiency. The Blues, however, are one of the most efficient teams playing five-on-five. After trading five-on-five goals through regulation, the Canucks' power play was the difference as they converted on a late power-play goal by one of the All-Star-bound Sedin brothers, Daniel.
St. Louis captain David Backes didn't like the boarding call he received with 20 seconds left in regulation after Alex Burrows tumbled into the boards in the Blues' zone, which set up the winning goal. Does Burrows, who scored the first two goals of the game for the Canucks, have a reputation for embellishing? Sure. Was this a well-earned penalty? Sure was. We're not talking suspension, but we are talking a check from behind. Simple call, really, in spite of what the locals might have thought.
Did the Blues deserve better? Maybe. They outshot the Canucks 23-12
through the last two periods. They outshot Vancouver 7-2 in the third and it was the work from the oft-maligned (but remarkably steady) Roberto Luongo that kept the game close. The Blues, riding a 9-0-1 streak at home, out-hit the Canucks and carried most of the play through the final two frames.
One of the elements that Armstrong hopes will serve the Blues well down the stretch as they continue to battle Detroit and Chicago for the top spot in the Central Division will be the presence of guys like Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, both former Stanley Cup winners brought in during the offseason. Now, neither are going to produce offensively like they have in the past, but Arnott delivered two key goals for the Blues on this night and now has 12 on the year, while Langenbrunner added an assist.
Lots of interesting parts of this game, but was there anything more
curious than the last couple of minutes of the second period when, with Vancouver's vaunted power play at work, the Canucks gave up not one but two shorthanded breakaway chances. In the first instance, Backes stole the puck at the St. Louis blue line but was denied by Luongo. Then moments later, T.J. Oshie broke in alone but couldn't quite settle the puck and ended up with the puck rolling into Luongo. In a game that ended up being decided by one goal in overtime, this was a moment that could have been for the Blues.
The Blues' power play has been better in recent days (they were 9-for-30 in their past seven games) but in the end, it came up empty on four occasions and that cost them. Let's not forget that along with rolling with the man advantage, the Canucks also rank fourth overall on the penalty kill.
Weird end to this one. The Blues were playing shorthanded 4-on-3 and one of the Blues defensemen lost his stick. Oshie gave up his stick and when he thought the puck was going to leave the Blues' zone, he turned to make a change. But the puck remained in the zone, leaving the Blues essentially down 4-on-2 and Daniel Sedin made no mistake on the pass from brother Henrik (also headed to the All-Star Game later this month) just 46 seconds into the overtime session.