Well, this was expected. Wasn’t it? Sarcasm aside, Boston and St. Louis have made it to the Stanley Cup Final by making short work of their Conference Final opponents. Boston was able to sweep aside the Carolina Hurricanes while St. Louis was able to subdue the San Jose Sharks in just five games. Boston is 12-5 this postseason and St. Louis is 12-7.
Normally, there is a part where the regular season meetings are discussed. Honestly, one can throw those records out the window. This series will be more about how the two teams are playing now. Let’s look at the two Stanley Cup finalists.
Boston Bruins – Atlantic Division 2nd seed:
Few expected Boston to dispose of the Carolina Hurricanes so easily. The Bruins scored first in every single game of the Eastern Conference Final. Boston was able to grind down Carolina, especially on special teams where they enjoyed an overwhelming edge. Boston outscored Carolina 7-1 on the man advantage in the series. It is no surprise that the Boston power play is clicking at 34% on the postseason (best in playoffs)
One of the main reasons why Boston is also in this position is Tuukka Rask. Rask has played 17 games and has not had a sub .900 save percentage once. Also, he shut the door in Round One against Toronto stopping 54 of the final 57 shots in that series. Then, Rask made 111 saves on 115 shots to end the season of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Overall, Rask had a save percentage over .950 against Columbus. He faced over 30 shots in every single game except Game 1. Rask shined against Carolina saving 109 of 114 shots for a .956 save percentage. His .824 quality start percentage and 13.68 goals saved above average lead the league among goalies.
As for injuries, Kevan Miller, Chris Wagner, and Zdeno Chara are hurt. However, it appears Zdeno Chara will be available for Game 1. Wagner, and Miller are both out for the Stanley Cup Final, however. It appears David Pastrnak is over his hand and thumb issues completely. Either way, Pastrnak is generating chances and scoring in a timely fashion (15 points and seven goals in 17 playoff games).
What to watch:
There are several things. St. Louis’s penalty kill has been a bit vulnerable this postseason. Overall, they are at just 78% and Boston’s power play is again clicking at 34% for the playoffs. Boston is going to give up chances against St. Louis and Tuukka Rask will have to turn aside some high-quality shots once more.
It appears the Patrice Bergeron line will go toe to toe against the Vladimir Tarasenko line from the start. Whichever top line wins the battle may mean the series. Boston’s biggest dynamic is their best trio is also a huge reason why their power play is so good. Finally, Charlie McAvoy will also be one to watch as well.
St. Louis Blues – Central Division 3rd seed:
The St. Louis Blues arguably faced three of the tougher opponents in the playoffs in the form of the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, and the San Jose Sharks. Vladimir Tarasenko needs to play more like he did over the second half of the season. Too many games in these playoffs, Tarasenko has been a passenger too often. He has had several impressive games though. Jaden Schwartz and Ryan O’Reilly have been excellent for the Blues. Schwartz has shaken off the injuries to score 12 goals and 16 points. O’Reilly has 14 points in 19 contests. Colton Parayko has at times replaced Alex Pietrangelo on the top-unit power play. Parayko’s heavy shot could force some awkward situations against Boston. It is the one aspect that Boston has faced little of in these playoffs.
Jordan Binnington has been steady and at times very good for St. Louis. That is what is needed sometimes in the playoffs. Binnington stopped 75 of the final 77 shots faced against San Jose and won three straight games closing the door on the Sharks. The St. Louis goalie was the rock he had been throughout the second half of the season.
As for injuries, St. Louis is missing Vince Dunn and the expectation is that Dunn could return at some point during the series. The when becomes the question. Other than that, the Blues are a mostly healthy team with the usual bumps and bruises one would expect in a deep playoff run.
What to watch:
How does St. Louis fare against the Boston offense? Can they slow down the top line and the Boston power play which has been elite? St. Louis is a bigger team than Carolina, but will they be able to get in position any quicker than Carolina on the penalty kill? Body position is something that Boston has used in every round – especially on the man advantage.
They must also stay out of the penalty box. Boston has had 50 power play chances in these playoffs. Even more daunting is Boston’s penalty kill which executes at 86.3% (44 for 51). Again, St. Louis scored a few power play goals against San Jose. That momentum will be vital against a dynamic penalty kill which can create some chances short-handed as well.
The Blues are versatile enough to attack with speed and have their own bruising defenseman who can shoot a laser. That would be Colton Parayko. Paryako is a game changer that can go up against the bruising Boston offense and counter with a few shots of his own. How much will Alex Pietrangelo be sheltered is a great question? Craig Berube faces a monumental decision that he may be in denial on. Parayko is the best defensemen St. Louis has currently. Pietrangelo’s postseason has been disastrous on defense despite some offensive success.
This will be some chess match between two heavy, physical teams which happen to have some considerable skill. St. Louis is one of the few teams that can go toe to toe against Boston.
Into the Futures:
Alas, Boston remains around a -155 to -160 pick to win the Stanley Cup while St. Louis is still around +135 or so. The Blues have had value all post-season and have gotten this far. There are some that think a dip could occur in Boston’s future and some indications are trending in that direction. Between now and Monday night, there could be a few ups and downs regarding the number. The one fact remains that Boston will still be the odds-on favorites on Monday night. Considering they opened at -160 on the big board in Vegas. Boston has been one of the best home teams all season and the playoffs.
One final thing is watch who scores first. It has been a staple of this postseason how good these teams have been when they light the lamp to start. Boston and St. Louis will try to soften up each other from the start despite extended rest (six days for St. Louis and ten for Boston). The expectation is for a relatively long series. Boston has a little bit more offense and better goaltending in Tuukka Rask. The experience could play a vital role in the winner.
Prediction: Boston in six games over St. Louis
By Chris Wassel