After 82 games in the Regular Season and 6 weeks of Playoffs, it is finally time for the biggest stage in Hockey. The Boston Bruins and the St Louis Blues get set to faceoff against each other Monday night in Boston, for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. These are two very strong teams that match up very well. They are both deep throughout their lineups and they are getting the goaltending they need to make it this far. Boston has looked like an unstoppable force for a lot of the playoffs with their monster top line and Tuukka Rask playing out of this world. St Louis has gotten contributions from almost everyone up and down the lineup. Each line has had huge moments through the first three rounds, the Maroon, Bozak, Thomas line has had multiple moments, including the Game 7 OT winner against Dallas in Round 2. Oskar Sundqvist on the fourth line, is 5th on the blues with 4 goals and 8th in points with 8. Can the Blues shut down the Bruins top players and find a way to solve Tuukka Rask? Or will Boston continue its dominance in the Cup Final?
January 17, 2019 – Bruins (5) – Blues (2)
February 23, 2019 – Bruins (1) – Blues (2) SO
Boston’s journey to this point began with a 7-game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second straight season. They then hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 2 after they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning. Rask shined in that series as the Bruins took the Jackets out in 6 games, meeting the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. Between Rask’s brilliant play, and the Bruins best players being their best players, they made quick work of Carolina in a 4-game sweep, punching their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the 3rd time since 2011. Boston has everything going for them right now, their powerplay has been red hot all playoffs at 34%. Tuukka Rask and the defence on front of him have been rock solid, they are the only team in the playoffs with a GA/Game of below 2 which is insane. Bruce Cassidy preaches quality as much as quantity and the Bruins have probably been the best team at limiting and generating chances from the slot area. The Blues will have a tough task in attempting to break through the Bruins defence and solve Rask in this series.
St Louis was arguably the hottest team in the NHL in the Calendar year of 2019. Craig Berube has done a fantastic job since taking over as Head Coach and with the help of Jordan Binnington emerging in net, was able to right the ship in St Louis quickly after an underachieving first half. The Blues drew the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1, who went to the Conference Final the spring before. They eliminated them in 6 games on Home ice and would welcome the Dallas Stars in Round 2. St Louis controlled most of the play in that series but had a hard time breaking through Dallas, who was the second-best defensive team during the season behind the Islanders. They eventually were able to outlast them in Game 7 Overtime to send them back to the Conference Final for a 2016 rematch with the Sharks. San Jose would take a 2-1 series lead after a controversial OT winner in Game 3. That sparked a rally for the Blues who would bounce right back from it to win the next 3 games in convincing fashion. St Louis would get their revenge from 2016 and eliminate the Sharks on Home ice in Game 6, sending them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970. St Louis’s depth has been fantastic and is a huge reason why they made it this far. They will need it to be great again in this series if they want to win the matchups with Boston.
Powerplay – Bruins 34.0 (1st) – Blues 19.4 (9th)
Penalty Kill – Bruins 86.3 (4th) – Blues 78.0 (11th)
GF/Game – Bruins 3.35 (2nd) – Blues 3.00 (4th)
GA/Game – Bruins 1.94 (1st) – Blues 2.53 (5th)
Shot Share (CF%) – Bruins 50.74 (9th) – Blues 50.86 (7th)
Scoring Chances (SCF%) – Bruins 50.88 (7th) – Blues 49.94 (10th)
Goal Share (GF%) – Bruins 58.18 (2nd) – Blues 57.75 (3rd)
Boston’s bottom six needs to match St Louis’s in terms of production. As I’ve stated before, all four of St Louis’s lines have been really good so far. A lot of people would give the advantage to Boston in terms of their top players, as well as their goaltending and defensive structure has been almost impenetrable. Boston’s bottom six has been very good as well, if all four of their lines can matchup with St Louis and cancel each other out, they will put themselves in very good position with their defence and Rask.
Another thing that’s important for Boston is to be quick and efficient with the puck in their own zone. St Louis is a forechecking cycle team and they create a ton of offensive zone time and shots by getting pucks back and moving it around on the cycle. Boston will need to be strong at exiting their zone so they can transition to offense easier and get back to generating high-quality shots that they’ve been doing so well. They did a great job of combating that against an aggressive forechecking team in Carolina and if they do that again against St Louis they will be in good shape.
It is very important that the Blues stay disciplined and keep the game at 5v5. If they get themselves into a special teams’ battle with Boston they are going to lose. Boston’s powerplay has burned every team they’ve played and the best way to stop it is to not give it an opportunity to begin with. If the Blues don’t let the Bruins get under their skin and they stick to playing at 5v5 and doing what they do best, they will give themselves the best chance to win.
In order to try and solve Rask and the Bruins defence, St Louis is going to need to get as many bodies on front of the net as they can. Boston does a very good job of keeping teams to the outside and blocking passes to the middle. If the Blues can establish their cycle game and try to get Boston moving, they could get pucks to the net with lots of traffic in front of Rask. You’re probably not going to beat him clean very much at all, so you need to generate havoc and rebounds in front of him.
The Boston Bruins have a lot of advantages coming into this series and are the favourite of many people predicting. Everything that a team needs to win the Cup, they have going at a high level right now. Many people would have them as the favourite in the series, but St Louis has been great throughout these playoffs as well. Obviously goaltending will play a huge factor in the outcome but with two good and deep teams, Coaching will have to play a big factor as well. Both coaches have had a week to prepare for each other and to figure out the matchups that they might want, so we will see which strategy and tactics work out. I expect, as well as hope, that this series goes at least 6 or 7 games as these are two great teams. Will Boston win Cup #7 or will the St Louis Blues win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history? We will find out soon enough, as the Championship Series gets set to open, Monday night in Beantown.
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