FILE - In this Nov., 5, 2019, file photo, Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson (40), of Sweden, skates with the puck while being watched by St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly (90) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia. If there’s a polar opposite to the St. Louis Blues in terms of makeup and style, they’ll face it in the Vancouver Canucks. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

FILE - In this Nov., 5, 2019, file photo, Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson (40), of Sweden, skates with the puck while being watched by St. Louis Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly (90) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia. If there’s a polar opposite to the St. Louis Blues in terms of makeup and style, they’ll face it in the Vancouver Canucks. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Polar opposites: Big, tough Blues face small, quick Canucks

Canucks earned their spot in the round of 16 by beating the Minnesota Wild in the best-of-five qualifying round

Hockey is trending to look like the Vancouver Canucks, with smaller players and more skill, speed and offence.

That didn’t stop the big, heavy St. Louis Blues from bruising their way to the Stanley Cup last season and to the top of the Western Conference when the NHL season halted in March.

When Vancouver and defending champion St. Louis meet in the first round, it will be a matchup of opposites. The winner of the series will be the team that can better dictate its preferred method of play, and the Blues have the experience in setting that tone. Game 1 is Wednesday.

“We have to establish our physicality right away,” reigning playoff MVP Ryan O’Reilly said. “We’ve got to show them that this is going to be a hard series and they’re going to have to earn everything.”

The Canucks earned their spot in the round of 16 by beating the Minnesota Wild in the best-of-five qualifying round. Now the fifth seed in the deep, unpredictable Western Conference, they can use the experience gleaned from a rough and tumble Minnesota series to measure themselves against the Blues.

“The previous series was a good warmup for us, for sure,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “Minnesota defends very well, they’ve got a deep set of forwards, and the hockey at this time of the year was very intense. Your body had to get used to it, and I think it was a good test for our group and this will be another one. There’s no bigger test than playing the team that had just won the Stanley Cup.”

St. Louis has virtually the same team back from the first title in franchise history. But this group lost all three of its round-robin games to fall to the fourth seed in the West.

Coach Craig Berube wasn’t happy with much of what his team did in those tuneup games but noticed a different level of focus now that elimination is possible.

“They know now: You’ll go home if you don’t play well,” Berube said. “I think that obviously makes you dialed in a little bit more.”

Vancouver isn’t a natural rival, and there haven’t been many chances to build up some post-season hatred. The Canucks will be playing in their first best-of-seven playoff series since 2015. Despite that lack of experience, the Canucks are talented enough to put a scare into the Blues if they don’t take them seriously.

“We definitely don’t want to underestimate them,” St. Louis defenceman Vince Dunn said. “They have great goaltending, too, so from top to bottom they’re lethal defensively and offensively. At any point in time, we can’t take our foot off the gas.”

PETTERSSON VS. O’REILLY

Dynamic Canucks forward Elias Pettersson could see a lot of O’Reilly, one of the best defensive stoppers in the game. Pettersson is excited for the challenge.

“He’s an elite player, elite scorer,” O’Reilly said. “You can see the way he reads the game and the positions he puts himself in, he’s always a threat. Playing against that, you’ve always got to be aware of him and tight to him, make sure, any chance you can, step in his way and just making it difficult on him. ”

PETTERSSON VS. BINNINGTON

Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington said he thought he should have won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year last season. Pettersson won it and is now trying to downplay any perceived contention with the Cup-winning netminder.

“Both of us are trying to play our best every game,” Pettersson said. “It’s not up to us who wins the Calder.”

Binnington didn’t get his NHL chance until age 25, and that came midway through the 2018-19 season. Not being called up until January last season likely cost him the award.

“I think he doesn’t take that personally. I think that just motivates him more,” Dunn said. “He hasn’t had the easiest path to get where he is right now, so I think that just helps him motivate himself to want to push himself to be even better this year.”

D FOR DISCIPLINE

Vancouver took a play-in-round-high 28 penalties, an average of seven a game, and St. Louis committed 15 in its three games. Related: the Blues ranked third on the power play and the Canucks fourth during the regular season.

The lesson? Stay out of the box or pay the price.

“We haven’t been disciplined yet and going forward here starting in the first game against Vancouver, we need to be a disciplined hockey team,” Berube said. “We can accept taking away a scoring chance or things like that or physicality at times, getting calls for that, but this hooking and tripping and holding and stuff like that, we’ve got to get rid of those.”

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CanucksNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Ferries is in the midst of gathering support from local governments for a plan that would fully electrify Island-class ferries. A pair of hybrid ferries are slated for the Gabriola-downtown Nanaimo ferry route for 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Hybrid vessels just a start as B.C. Ferries works toward fully electric sailings on Gabriola route

Ferry corporation seeking support from local governments for electrification plan

The sky above Mt. Benson in Nanaimo is illuminated by flares as search and rescuers help an injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Search and Rescue)
Search plane lights up Nanaimo’s Mt. Benson with flares during icy rope rescue

Search and rescue team gets injured hiker down the mountain to a waiting ambulance

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Nanaimo’s NRGH

Two staff members and one patient have tested positive

A long-term care worker receives the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic in Nanaimo earlier this month. (Island Health photo)
All seniors in long-term care on the Island will be vaccinated by the end of this weekend

Immunization of high-risk population will continue over the next two months

Sofia Low, left, Delilah Maisonneuve, Madi Hickey, Alayna Black, and Maya Wilch, Departure Bay Eco-School students, will turn down the temperature and wear sweaters on Feb. 4, National Sweater Day. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo students will don sweaters next week as part of energy-saving challenge

Departure Bay Eco-School’s green energy team challenges other classes on National Sweater Day

VIU’s health and science centre. (Vancouver Island University photo)
VIU to train 72 health-care assistants to work with seniors

B.C. Ministry of Health announces details of health career access program

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization, a non-profit, seeks to raise $8,000 for a play structure to help children remain active during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Unique Kids Organization asking for help fundraising for play structure

Physical activities have been limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, says non-profit

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

Most Read