VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues knew that special teams would be a major factor in their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Neither team expected it to be so important so early.
Game 1 featured 15 minor penalties and two misconducts, leading to 13 power plays -- seven for the Blues and six for the Canucks. Vancouver's special teams were just a little bit better, and they were enough to make the difference in a 2-1 win Wednesday night.
The Canucks held the Blues to 1-for-7 with the man advantage allowing only nine shots; two of those came on a lengthy 5-on-3 power play midway through the first period with Vancouver up 1-0.
The Blues had a chance to get even after Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo took penalties 19 seconds apart. The trio of Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Willie Mitchell did the job -- they blocked two shots, thwarted three passes and allowed only two shots on goal, both of which were stopped by Roberto Luongo, who came up big while making 25 saves.
"Obviously on a 5-on-3 you need your goalie to be your best penalty-killer,"Burrows said. "Definitely (Luongo) made some big saves there, especially the last one when he able to keep the rebound too."
Said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault: "The 5-on-3 was obviously a huge turning point. They got a few great quality chances, and our goaltender made some quality saves."
The save in question was a pad stop by Luongo on Andy McDonald to the goalkeeper’s left with 7:39 left in the period. After working the puck around the Vancouver zone, Brad Boyes set up McDonald for a one-timer only to have Luongo stop what looked like a sure tying goal.
"I didn’t get it up," a frustrated McDonald said. "He made a good jump being over but certainly I’ve got to get that puck up."
Failure to take advantage of the other team’s undisciplined play was the story of the night for both teams. The Canucks were only 1-for-6 while up a man, although their lone special teams' score was a big one -- Sami Salo's point shot past Chris Mason 5:11 into the second period proved to be the game-winner.
Salo’s goal put the Canucks up 2-0. Boyes got a power-play goal at 18:44, but that was all they managed.
Vancouver outshot St. Louis 15-6 in the third period as the Canucks dominated play until the final minute, when they generated some offense after pulling Mason for an extra attacker.
"Five-on-five I thought we got better as the game went on, and we played a really strong third period," Vigneault said. "We’re going to need to get better because that team has got a lot of speed and skill and they play really hard."
No one is questioning St. Louis' work ethic -- the Blues will match Vancouver's intensity all series long -- but without production from its power play, the Blues will be hard-pressed to score enough to win.
The Blues finished eighth on the power play during the regular season and scored 72 of their 227 goals with the extra man.
"We knew it was going to be a battle," Blues forward Keith Tkachuk said. "The disappointing thing was that we had opportunities on the power play, especially on the 5-on-3, you’ve got to find a way to score, there’s no question about it this time of year."
Though his team was dominated more than the final score would indicate, Blues coach Andy Murray was upbeat after the game.
"I was very encouraged by the game tonight," he said. "Our team can play better, but our team should feel encouraged. We lost 2-1, and we have to play better; we're capable of playing a lot better.
With Vancouver leading 1-0 just past the midway point of the first period, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo took penalties 19 seconds apart, putting the Blues up 5-on-3. Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Willie Mitchell were sent out as penalty killers and did their job -- the trio blocked two shots and deflected three passes in holding St. Louis to only two shots on goal during the long two-man advantage.
Steve Bernier was named Vancouver’s unsung hero for his stellar play in the regular season, and he backed up his title with a solid effort in Game 1. In 14:02 of ice time he recorded one shot, had one hit and was a plus-1. He also provided the screen that allowed Sami Salo’s point shot to elude Chris Mason for what proved to be the winning goal.
It takes toughness to win in the playoffs, and the Blues were rock solid in that department all night. Barret Jackman took a slap shot to the head in the first period and skated it off; Carlo Colaiacovo followed suit when he stayed on the ice after sliding facefirst into his own goal post after sprawling to knock the puck away from Alex Burrows on a breakaway.
The Blues were eighth on the power play during the regular season but that success didn’t carry over. St. Louis finished 1-for-7 with nine shots while playing up a man and failed to convert on the 5-on-3 advantage.
For only the second time this season, Vancouver managed to hold St. Louis rookie T.J. Oshie without a point. The youngster was second in Blues scoring against the Canucks in the regular season with five points (2-3-5) and was a sparkplug the Canucks struggled to contain.
1 - 0 VAN
2 - 0 VAN
2 - 1 VAN