The St. Louis Blues' bubble has been popped.
After narrowly finishing the regular season as the Western Conference's top squad, the defending Stanley Cup champions' title defense lasted just six playoff games. The Blues were eliminated in the first round at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks, who picked up their first postseason series win since 2011.
It's a disappointing finish to the season for St. Louis and now we're guaranteed to see a new team raise the Stanley Cup in 2020. So, why are the Blues going home this early? Let's take a look at where things went wrong.
Sloppy play & turnovers
Simply put, the Blues never really looked quite right upon returning to action following the COVID-19 shutdown. They weren't the same hard-nosed, tight, disciplined team that we'd come to know since Craig Berube took over last season. Instead, they had far too many mental lapses and regularly turned the puck over -- often times in highly dangerous areas.
They did stuff like this:
Credit goes to Vancouver for being able to finish their opportunities, but it felt like about three-quarters of the goals that they scored in this series came as the direct result of St. Louis just giving them the puck.
Overall, it was just a pretty embarrassing showing from a Blues team that we all know is capable of much better. They were consistently outplayed and outworked by arguably and inferior team that was more than willing to feed them their lunch.
Lack of discipline
When the Blues' sloppiness didn't immediately translate into a Vancouver goal, it often translated into a Vancouver power play ... which then quickly translated into a Vancouver goal. St. Louis, which finished the regular season as the fourth-least penalized team in the league, put the Canucks on the power play 23 times over the course of the series. Considering Vancouver had a top five power play in the league this season, the results were bad for the Blues.
Again, the Canucks did well to take advantage of the opportunities that were given to them. They scored seven times on the man-advantage, with most of that damage coming from their extremely dangerous top PP unit featuring Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller.
Coming into this series, I expected a relatively inexperienced (and oft undisciplined) Canucks team to be the side that made too many mistakes and committed too many costly penalties. In reality, it was the opposite.
We've seen it so many times in the past. The Blues are a much different (and much more dangerous) team when Ryan O'Reilly is at his best. At the front end of this series, O'Reilly's line was dominant in terms of controlling possession and limiting the opportunities for the top competition it matched against.
Finally, that dominance helped St. Louis find wins in Games 3 and 4. In the Blues' Game 3 win, O'Reilly's line controlled an absolutely staggering 80 percent of shots (24-6) and attempts (39-10) at five-on-five. They also scored twice, including the overtime winner. In Game 4, O'Reilly's line controlled 67 percent of attempts, 71 percent of shots and scored once while shutting out the opposition.
But Travis Green did well to find spots for his top players (namely Elias Pettersson) away from O'Reilly at five-on-five and it paid dividends. And Green's willingness and ability to juggle his forward lines ultimately helped stop the bleeding and allowed Vancouver to get back on the right track in Games 5 and 6. Jake Virtanen's selective (and somewhat surprising) deployment worked to help Vancouver play a bit heavier and injected a bit of juice into the front end of the Canucks' lineup over the final few games.
It can't be overstated how important it is for coaches to make adjustments over the course of a best-of-7 series, and Green did a fantastic job reacting to what he saw and switching things up in order to poke holes in the Blues' gameplan.
It's hard to pin a ton of blame on goaltending considering how poorly the Blues played in front of their own net, but those mistakes and turnovers are only compounded when your goalie isn't saving stoppable pucks. There's no way around it, Jordan Binnington looked like a shell of the guy we saw last postseason.
Binnington lost all three of his starts and went 52-for-65 on shots faced, giving him a putrid .800 save percentage in those three games.
St. Louis understandably went to Jake Allen, who helped right the ship in Games 3 and 4. He went 92-for-100 in the series but did have his leaky moments too.
Overall, the goaltending wasn't St. Louis' biggest problem, but it certainly didn't do them any favors, either.
No secondary scoring
One of the Blues' strengths last year was their ability to roll four lines and get significant contributions (on both ends of the ice) from top to bottom. That sort of depth is often the difference-maker for teams trying to make deep playoff runs.
St. Louis just didn't get those contributions this time around. When you look at the production they received in this series, almost all of it lies at the top of their lineup. O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and David Perron accounted for pretty much all of their scoring at even strength. Only one goal came from a forward outside of the top six (Sammy Blais).
It also doesn't help that the Blues, who got more goals from defensemen than any other team in the regular season, had just one five-on-five goal from a defenseman (Justin Faulk) in this series. Vancouver's bottom six wiped the floor with the Blues' over these six games, and that's something few probably saw coming.