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Blues had to win that one, but Avalanche defense shut them down

The blue line did wonders.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For myriad reasons stemming from long breaks to unfamiliar game plans, Game 1 is usually identified as the one the road team is best positioned to steal. The adage of “a series doesn’t begin until a home team loses a game” is generally true, and if the St. Louis Blues had pulled a win out of their hat last night, there would be immense pressure on the Colorado Avalanche today, as their recent years of second-round playoff failures would become the white-hot focus of this series. Instead, the Avalanche grinded a win out of a game they controlled from (near) start to finish, and today St. Louis must be wondering whether that was their best chance to win a game in Denver.

The 5-on-5 Corsi chart reveals how dramatically Colorado controlled that game after the first period, as the Avs dominated the last forty-plus minutes, reaching a crescendo in overtime as they out-shot the Blues by a staggering figure of 13-0.

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You can dig through Natural Stat Trick’s archives and find countless lopsided games this year that looked like this where the Avalanche won comfortably. Puck luck last night was decidedly on the side of St. Louis. From our seats on the end where all the goals were scored, my friend and I counted 5 hit posts for the Avs, not to mention Erik Johnson’s missed golden opportunity at a wide-open net when the puck rolled on him and Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington just got his outstretched arm on the weak shot.

That game very easily could have ended 8-2.

Additionally, while Ryan O’Reilly’s series-opening goal was the result of hard work by the Blues and a bad turnover by Cale Makar, he was immensely fortunate to have the puck ping pong from O’Reilly’s leg to Brayden Schenn’s leg before landing perfectly in front of O’Reilly who did a great job to settle it and then roofed a beauty to put the Avs down 1-0 early.

If St. Louis can’t win a game where Colorado beat Binnington eight times while only netting three goals out of it, you can’t help but wonder what it will take to steal a game in a building where the Avs have gone 54-9-6 in the regular season the last two years.

Avalanche Defensemen Shine

Evan detailed the dramatic mismatch at the back-end before this series, and Game 1 proved him prophetic. The Blues got blown out of the building at 5-on-5 primarily because the Avalanche defensive corps took over Game 1, with Sam Girard and Josh Manson both scoring go-ahead and game-winning goals respectively. Aside from a first period where the Blues won a few races to the slot and got their sticks on some tipped pucks, the vast majority of their 5-on-5 shot attempts were confined to the corners or bad angles. The outline of all the unblocked shots from last night reveals the dramatic difference between the two teams in Game 1, as the Avs heat map engulfs practically the entire offensive zone, while the Blues were mostly forced into low percentage shots just hoping for a lucky bounce.

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On the offensive end, the backline was the engine behind last night’s terrific performance at 5-on-5, as Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and Josh Manson all finished with around 1.5 expected goals, with Eric Johnson and Bowen Byram both landing at around 0.8 expected goals, while Makar’s 1.6 lead the team. Comparing this to St. Louis puts their dominance in stark contrast, as the Blue with the highest expected goals figure from last night was Colton Parayko at 0.68, with Ryan O’Reilly being his only other teammate to finish higher than 0.5.

If every game this round looks like last night at 5-on-5 and the Avs can stay out of the penalty box to keep the dangerous St. Louis special teams at bay, the Blues have no shot to win this series. They got nearly every break they could have hoped for between 51 Binnington saves, several Avs posts, and the Blues’ first goal bouncing off two legs before landing in the perfect spot, and it still wasn’t enough to pull out a victory. For all the hope that this year would be different with a healthier and deeper Blues team, Game 1 sure looked a lot like last year’s four-game sweep.