BLUES AT AVALANCHE
When: Sunday, Aug. 2 at 5:30 p.m. CT
Where: Rogers Place in Edmonton
Watch: FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, NBC Sports Network
Listen: 101 ESPN, NHL App
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have officially begun.
On Saturday, the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Sixteen teams are playing (eight matchups, best-of-5 series) to determine the final eight playoff spots (four in the West, four in the East).
While those games are being played, the teams already locked into a playoff spot will compete in a three-game round robin to determine seeding.
Which brings us to the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues…
Video: Hear from Blues ahead of matchup with Colorado
BLUES The Blues were the top seed in the Western Conference when the NHL season paused due to the coronavirus on March 12 and will meet the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. to begin the round-robin at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Vladimir Tarasenko will be back in his first game since suffering a shoulder injury last October. Tarasenko was close to returning in March before the season was halted, so he's ready to go and appears ready to leave it all on the line.
"It's games for seeding, it's not just friendly games," Tarasenko said of the round robin. "If you play a game, you plan for a win. That's what our sport is about. Whoever gets it faster is going to have a chance to win. (We) keep that in mind with a chance to repeat this thing. We're going to play our best and try to get a win in every game, like always."
For a team that played a lot of hockey over the last year and a half, a four-and-a-half month pause could be good for the battled-tested Blues, who enter the playoffs looking for their second consecutive Stanley Cup. Since 1997, only two teams have repeated as champions: The Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017).
"We're here for a reason right now," added David Perron. "We're in this situation, we know we have a good team and we're the only team in here that has a chance to repeat something special. We're looking forward to getting started."
Video: Tarasenko discusses importance of round robin
AVALANCHE The Colorado Avalanche were right on the Blues' heels down the stretch.
When the season paused, Colorado had 92 points in 70 games - the Blues had 94 points in 71 games.
Both teams figure to be among the favorites to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
"They've got high end players and if you don't do a good job against them, they're going to make you pay, especially on the power play," Blues Head Coach Craig Berube said. "We've got to be disciplined, we can't go into these games and go into the penalty box. That's not going to help us at all."
Colorado edged the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in their exhibition matchup on Wednesday and appear to be healthy to begin the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon was injured just before the pause and is back, as is linemate Mikko Rantanen, who missed the final 12 regular season games with an injury.
MacKinnon led the Avalanche and ranked fifth overall in the League with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE STATS?
Player stats for the round-robin and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will count as playoff stats for the 2019-20 season.