The St. Louis Blues resume their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a huge hockey game. Well, sort of.
With the NHL restarting after the 4 1/2-month pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blues face the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday in Edmonton to kick off the four-team Western Conference round-robin tournament.
The Blues, Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars are in something of a catch-22 when they face the advancing clubs from the qualifying round series.
Even while holding a ticket to the Stanley Cup tournament, seeding positions for the opening round of the playoffs are up for grabs. Plus, there’s the importance of being ready to face a club that will have been battle tested by winning a best-of-five series.
“We have three games to be at the top of our game, that’s the way I look at it,” Blues head coach Craig Berube told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So I want our team to go out and get to our game right away, play as hard as we can. My opinion, we’re taking these games very seriously.”
They should. After all, last spring saw all four regular-season divisional champs bounced in the opening round. Throw in the upheaval from this season, and things are likely to be even crazier.
“The biggest thing is just getting your game tight and getting it where it needs to be,” said defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, whose team lost a 4-0 clash with the Chicago Blackhawks in its lone exhibition contest.
“The seeding is important, but I think in any playoffs the team that continues to get better through it all is the team that’s gonna have the most success.”
The Avalanche are one of those teams who upset a division champ last spring, handily dispatching the Calgary Flames in a one-sided five-game series before falling in seven games to the San Jose Sharks.
“Home-ice advantage, it’s still an advantage,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “Last change and being able to chase some matchups that you like and avoid ones that you don’t is an advantage. I think that is still our goal.
“We have three games to play and have an opportunity to achieve our goal, which was to get home ice in the West. If we can accomplish that, we’re going to try and do it.”
Colorado beat the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in its tune-up tilt, a game split by goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. Bednar said both will see action in the round-robin and battle it out for the starting assignment in the playoffs.
“Going into this, we should try and keep those guys going and playing in game situations as much as we possibly can,” Bednar said. “The luxury of playing a round-robin and not jumping into a series right away allows us to do that.”