Welcome to our Blues & Bruins Stanley Cup Final preview focusing mainly on the Bruins so that Blues fans can learn a little bit about the next opponent.
REMATCH 49 YEARS LATER
Unless you’ve just crawled out of a cave or woke up from a coma, you already know that the St. Louis Blues are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 49 years. They will face the same team they did last time, the Boston Bruins. Even if you weren’t around for that one in 1970 you have probably seen the famous photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of game four.
Boston is one of the six original NHL teams and a storied franchise with six Stanley Cups. They’ve had players like Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Ray Bourque. This team’s core of players was on board for their 2011 Championship over Vancouver and the 2013 finals loss to Chicago. It’s an experienced bunch over there.
It’s not going to be easy. But nobody ever said winning a Stanley Cup was going to be easy, did they? Here’s our breakdown.
REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFFS
Boston finished the regular season 49-24-9 with 107 points. They were 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the playoffs, they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, Columbus in six games, and swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. They seem to have gotten better as the playoffs have gone on, but will have had 10 days off by the time the puck is dropped in game one of the finals, so maybe they will have cooled off a little.
This is a deep, physical team that mirrors the St. Louis Blues in many ways. Coach Bruce Cassidy rolls four lines, similarly to Craig Berube and the Blues. Up front, you’ve got a top line that is “all-world” in terms of their abilities and their production.
The trio of Brad Marchand (36G/64A), Patrice Bergeron (32G/47A), and David Pastrnak (38G/43A) combined for 106 goals, 154 assists for 260 points during the regular season. They have 22 goals and 24 assists in the postseason compared to 22 goals and 14 assists from the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line.
The Bruins top line averages a little more than 19 minutes of time on the ice in the postseason.
Boston’s second line is made up of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, and former Blues captain David Backes. Backes hasn’t played in every game this postseason, but we used his stats for comparisons. This line drops off only slightly to about 16:30 minutes of ice time compared to the Bergeron line.
Skating on the third line for Boston is Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, and Danton Heinen. The fourth line is Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, and either Karson Kuhlman or Noel Acciari. Lines 3 and 4 both average about 13-15 minutes each.
The chart below is very telling as to the depth of each squad and how comparable they are in postseason scoring. We’ve broken it down line by line and grouped the defensemen all in one group.
Scoring by Line & Defense
|Boston Bruins||Boston Scoring||St. Louis Scoring||St. Louis Blues
|Line 1||Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak||22G 24A||22G 14A||Schwartz, Schenn, Tarassnko|
|Line 2||Debrusk, Krejci, Backes||9G 17A||10G 20A||Perron, O'Reilly, Blais|
|Line 3||Johansson, Coyle, Heinen||11G 17A||9G 14A||Maroon, Bozak, Thomas|
|Line 4||Nordstrom, Kuraly, Acciari/Kuhlman||7G 8A||9G 9A||Barbashev, Sundqvist, Steen|
|Defense||Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, Grzelcyk, Clifton, Kampfer||8G 27A||7G 37A||Pietrangelo, Edmundson, Bouwmeester, Parayko, Bortuzzo, Gunnarsson, Dunn|
Boston’s defense, to a man, isn’t quite as big as the Blues d-corps but does boast Zdeno Chara at 6 feet 9 inches and 250 pounds. He is the Bruins captain and at 41 years of age still can hold his own, and then some. Brandon Carlo is 6’5″ but after him, none of their defensemen are taller than 6 foot.
As you can see in the chart above, the Bruins’ defensemen are capable of scoring goals and helping in the offensive zone. However, they are allowing 4 more shots on goal per game than the Blues defense has allowed.
They have a young defenseman, Charley McAvoy who is making quite a splash in the postseason. He has two goals and six assists and is effective on the power play.
Torey Krug is their leading scorer from the blue line. He has one goal and 11 assists for 12 points, 7 of those coming on the power play.
The Blues are bigger and play a more physical, tight-checking game than Boston. If Vince Dunn can return for the Blues and be effective, I’d give the edge to St. Louis in the defensive department.
The next chart shows the comparison between the two teams in several categories. A glaring disparity is in the power play where Boston has been lethal. They have converted on 34% of their man-advantage opportunities.
The Blues have been successful on less than 20% of their chances. However, in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals, the Blues were 5 for 15 for a 33% conversion rate. Let’s hope that continues into this round.
It was published earlier that when the Bruins have scored a power-play goal in this playoffs it has been after just an average of six seconds of offensive zone time.
St. Louis will have to stay out of the penalty box. That’s the only way to keep their power play unit off the ice. The Blues will also need to keep their power play going in the same direction which they ended the San Jose series.
|Boston Bruins||St. Louis Blues|
|PP scoring||17G 31A||12G 23A|
|Faceoff Win %||53.3%||49.4%|
|Shots For per game||33.6||30.9|
|Shots Against per game||32.4||28.4|
If there has been a hotter goaltender in this season’s playoffs than Tuukka Rask, nobody has shown us who that might be. The former first-round draft pick is 12-5 with two shutouts in his 17 starts with a .942 save percentage and 1.84 goals against average.
During the regular season, Rask was 27-13-5 with a .912 save percentage and 2.48 goals against. He has definitely picked up his game in this postseason. The Finland native has a lifetime record of 6-2-4 against the Blues and has a .924 save percentage and 2.12 goals against when facing the blue notes.
This season, he faced the Blues twice and stopped 56 of 59 shots. St. Louis beat him in late February in a 2-1 shootout win with Jordan Binnington in the opposing net. The other game was a 5-2 loss by the Blues in January with Jake Allen in the Blues net.
An interesting twist to this matchup is the fact that Jordan Binnington was on loan last season and played for the Boston AHL team in Providence where he notched 17 wins in 28 games and carried a 2.05 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
So, there is some familiarity there with Binnington and the Bruins organization. According to some comments from Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, they feel like they have an advantage because of last year and their insight into Binnington’s game.
This should be a great series. These two teams are about as evenly matched on paper as any two teams you will find. San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said that two ‘heaviest’ teams in the league are in the final. If that’s true, it should be like a heavyweight title bout.
Boston has home ice advantage, but St. Louis is 7-2 on the road in this postseason, a trend that carried over from the regular season. One win for the Blues in Boston and home ice is negated.
Can the skilled players from Boston find space to create and score on the tight-checking Blues? That will be a key.
Can St. Louis play the physical fore-checking game they want to play? Boston may be quicker than anyone they’ve faced yet in this postseason. Will the Blues be able to get to them and wear them down the way they’ve done everyone else this year?
We can’t wait for it to start. Let’s go Blues!