EDMONTON – The St. Louis Blues didn’t quite have their Stanley Cup lineup Sunday, but they had their championship game.
They were fast, relentless, physical and punished the Vancouver Canucks for their mistakes. The Blues also had a goalie who could match Jacob Markstrom, as St. Louis coach Craig Berube played his ace card and replaced struggling starter Jordan Binnington with Jake Allen.
Brayden Schenn’s breakaway goal at 15:06 of overtime gave the Blues a 3-2 win and a rocket-boost back into their first-round NHL playoff series against the Canucks. Now trailing only 2-1, the Blues are suddenly a more dangerous team. They now remember what winning is like.
After scuffling disinterested through the hub-city round-robin, then losing their first two games against the Canucks, the Blues hadn’t won a hockey game since the NHL shut down for the novel coronavirus in March.
“We knew they were going to come,” Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “They’re the defending Cup champs for a reason. They know what it takes to win and they definitely weren’t going to shy away from a fight.”
That fight continues with a pivotal Game 4 on Monday night.
“They’re going to push again and we’ve got to be ready for it,” Horvat said. “I think if we can come at them right off the start and get on them early and just play our game … a couple of times I think we were shying away from who we are, our identity. I think if we get back to that we’re going to have a lot of success.”
The Canucks’ failure to look after the puck and safely get it deep against the Blues led indirectly to the first two St. Louis goals. On Schenn’s winner, Vancouver defenceman Quinn Hughes followed the puck behind the St. Louis net and then got caught, as did fellow blue-liner Troy Stecher, who didn’t move toward Schenn soon enough.
Schenn buried a top-corner shot over Markstrom’s catching glove to win it.
Any Canuck looking for an extra half-second to make a play wasn’t finding it Sunday. Anything complicated is fraught with risk against a Blues’ team that is unyielding in its pressure and pursuit of the puck, and deadly on the counter-attack.
“They were good,” Canucks defenceman Alex Edler said. “They played with desperation, obviously. I think we’ve just got to get some rest here, get back at it tomorrow, and get back to our game: play quick, try to get in on the forecheck and get some zone time that way. I think they were good, but I don’t think we were at our best.”
If the Blues are now fully engaged – and are going to get more goaltending like Allen offered them Sunday – even the Canucks’ best may not be enough against the Stanley Cup winners. Less than Vancouver’s best will be hopelessly inadequate.
The Canucks’ sizzling power play continued to scald St. Louis, opening the scoring at 1:19 of the second period when the Blues were fooled by a breakout wrinkle by Vancouver. Instead of hanging back for a neutral-zone drop, J.T. Miller bolted up ice and was hit in stride by Elias Pettersson. Behind the St. Louis defence, Miller picked the top corner on Allen to make it 1-0.
After the Canucks failed to double their lead on a couple of outstanding scoring chances, the Blues tied it at 8:16 when Stecher’s turnover ended with Robert Thomas hitting Justin Faulk with a goal-mouth pass the defenceman converted behind Markstrom.
Ryan O’Reilly, who has been dominant territorially, was allowed to attack the Canucks 2-on-2 after Vancouver turned the puck over at the St. Louis blue line. O’Reilly crossed with David Perron before dishing to his teammate, who beat Markstrom from a sharp angle to the far corner at 18:02.
But the Blues’ first lead of the series lasted only 37 seconds, as Pettersson tied it 2-2 at 18:39, scoring short-side from a sharp angle after St. Louis defencemen Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella skated into one another, leaving the puck for the Canuck to collect. It was Pettersson’s second even-strength shot of the series.
The goal was like a 5-on-5 life raft for Vancouver’s top line, which has been badly outplayed by O’Reilly’s unit at even strength. Brock Boeser, guilty several times of overhandling the puck Sunday, didn’t register his first shot on goal in the series until overtime of Game 3.
Pettersson, Boeser and Miller have been outstanding on the power play, but those opportunities already are becoming scarce. Pettersson said the trio needs to be better at even strength.
“For sure,” he said. “Our first two games weren’t good at all 5-on-5. I think it was a little better today 5-on-5 but, still, all three of us want to be better and spend more time in the offensive zone.”
NOTES: The Canucks played without second-pairing defenceman Tyler Myers, who suffered a suspected shoulder injury when shoved from behind into the boards by Schenn in Game 2 on Friday. He was replaced by Jordie Benn. The Blues were without top winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who was injured for most of the season and came out of the St. Louis lineup for the second time in six post-season games.