PHOTO CREDITS: (NHL.com)
By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
On May 21st, the Boston Bruins finally knew which of the final two teams in the Western Conference will meet them in the Stanley Cup Finals. In Game Six of the West Finals, the St. Louis Blues ran through the injured San Jose Sharks in St. Louis with a 5-1 victory. The Blues had five different goal scorers (Perron, Tarasenko, Schenn, Bozak, Barbashev) while goaltender Jordan Binnington made 24 saves on 25 shots against.
On the television screens somewhere, the Bruins management were closely watching that game. Boston eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals five days before the Blues’ victory. Boston’s first line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were responsible for all four goals scored (Bergeron scored twice), while Tuukka Rask stopped every single one of the 24 shots that he faced within the 60-minute contest.
The 2018-19 NHL season has been the type of season that all hockey fans will remember for a long time. The 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning were bounced in the opening round in a four-game sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were defeated by the Bruins in six games in Round Two. The other three divisional winners were not anymore successful as the Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, and Washington Capitals all lost their first-round series.
Even though the Pittsburgh Penguins finished lower than the New York Islanders in the final standings, they had the experience that many fans predicted was going to be the deciding factor – however, the Islanders won four consecutive games and Pittsburgh was eliminated. Immediately after, the Islanders were swept themselves by the Hurricanes who were swept by the Bruins.
Regardless, there were many few insiders and analysts that successfully predicted a Stanley Cup Final that had both the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues in it, especially at the beginning of the year, but even after the 82-game campaign. All that said, we are here. In only a few days time, the two franchises will drop the puck in the Finals for the first time since the 1969-70 season. The same series were Bobby Orr flew through the air in what has now become one of the greatest, most memorable goals in NHL history.
PHOTO CREDITS: (Ray Lussier, Boston Record-American)
On January 2nd, 2019, the Blues were the 31st team in the league’s standings. St. Louis had issues with scoring, defense and goaltending and it made them the worst in the league. There was a moment in time where it was believed that the top superstars of the organization were possibly on the trading block for the approaching trade deadline. But, remarkably, St. Louis battled back in a big way. Rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington stole the starting job from Jake Allen and the Blues finished the year with a 45-28-9 record – third in the Central division and 12th in the NHL.
The Boston Bruins did not have an easy road to the Stanley Cup Finals by any stretch of the imagination. The whole season was filled with struggles, question marks, and injuries – a lot of injuries. In fact, not one Bruin skater played all 82 games in 2018-19, with David Krejci leading the way with 81. Yet, the Bruins still had three players above a point-per-game (Marchand, Pastrnak, Bergeron) and the majority of Boston players set new career highs.
2018-19 Season Series
The way the NHL standings work today, opposite conference teams only play each other twice per season. The travel and the extra time it takes to get from one city to the other just doesn’t make sense for the teams to do it more often that just twice. The lack of games played between each other may skew the results, but here are some of the key statistics for the pair of games between Boston and St. Louis this year.
January 17/19 – STL @ BOS – Bruins def Blues 5-2 (BOS: Krug, Backes, Wagner, Marchand, Kuraly, Rask – 28 saves on 30 shots; STL: O’Reilly, Gunnarson, Allen – 22 saves on 26 shots)
February 23/19 – BOS @ STL – Blues def Bruins 2-1 SO (BOS: Wagner, Coyle (SO goal) Rask – 28 saves on 29 shots, 4-for-6 in shootout; STL: Steen, Blais (SO winner) Binnington – 31 saves on 32 shots, 5-for-6 in shootout)
Each team picked up a win on home ice, but the Bruins in fact won the season series with a 1-0-1 record (3 points). The big guns of either franchise, aside from Brad Marchand, failed to get a goal but I have a feeling that this best-of-seven series will be different. Tuukka Rask was excellent in both games, allowing a total of three goals in regulation on 59 shots against.
On the other side of the ice, Jake Allen lost the first game, allowing four goals against, but rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington took the big win on home ice in the second meeting, stopping 31 shots, allowing only one goal by Chris Wagner and one shootout tally by Charlie Coyle.
Over seventeen games. Twelve wins. Three rounds. The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues have already been through some hard-fought wars and battles. All of that leads to this – how do they match up together in the postseason?
Boston Bruins (12-5)
def Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 – Round One
No surprises came in the opening round. Heading into yet another installment of the Original Six rivalry, the Bruins and Maple Leafs were neck and neck in the divisional standings and were for almost the entirety of the season. After going down 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 in the series, the B’s came back to dominate Game Seven, advancing to the second round.
def Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 – Round Two
Columbus entered the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the first time in franchise history following one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, sweeping the once-imagined unbeatable Tampa Bay Lightning. Boston came into the series, winning a close Game One in overtime, then lost in a double overtime session the next game. The Blue Jackets defeated Boston in another one-goal game, only to lose each of the next three and Boston advances once again.
def Carolina Hurricanes 4-0 – Round Three
Carolina was the underdogs of the entire playoffs. They had this Cinderella story surrounding them with the Storm Surge and the Bunch of Jerks comments from Don Cherry that truly built an incredible fan base in North Carolina. The Canes had beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Captials, in seven games, then swept the New York Islanders in Round Two. Boston, however, did not go easy on Carolina, winning four straight to win the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions.
PHOTO CREDITS: (NHL.com)
Goals: Patrice Bergeron (8)
Assists: Torey Krug, Brad Marchand (11)
Points: Brad Marchand (18)
Goaltending: Tuukka Rask – 12-5 1.84 GAA .942 SV% 2 Shutouts
St. Louis Blues (12-7)
def Winnipeg Jets 4-2 – Round One
Winnipeg was one of the Cup favorites in not only the Western Conference, but the entire league. However, that did not scare the Blues who stormed out to a 2-0 series lead on the road. The Jets took back both games in St. Louis, only for the Blues to take the series lead once again in Game 5. Off of another 3-2 victory, the Blues eliminated the Jets in the first-round.
def Dallas Stars 4-3 – Round Two
The Dallas Stars eliminated the Nashville Predators in an exciting first-round matchup, but were not able to handle the Blues in this seven-game series. St. Louis won Games One, Three, Six and finally, Seven to take the series four-games-to-three. St. Louis showed great resiliency to win the double overtime Game Seven, breaking the hearts of Stars fans everywhere.
def San Jose Sharks 4-2 – Round Three
Once again, the Blues were forced to deal with some early adversity in order to capture the Western Conference Championship. The dangerous San Jose Sharks took the first game 6-3, only for the Blues to tie the series in Game Two. The Blues took a hard loss in overtime in Game Three before dominantly winning three consecutive contests including a 5-0 win in Game Five and a final score of 5-1 in their first attempt at elimination.
Goals: Jaden Schwartz (12)
Assists: Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo (11)
Points: Jaden Schwartz (16)
Goaltending: Jordan Binnington – 12-7 2.36 GAA .914 SV% 1 Shutout
These two teams are here for a reason. Each of them have high-skilled forwards, solid defensemen on the back end, and stellar goaltenders between the pipes and play a hard, physical style of hockey night in and night out. Each of them will have sufficient rest and relaxation before this game and will both be relatively healthy on the injury front as well.
Bruins forward David Backes will make his Stanley Cup Finals debut on Monday against the team that not only drafted him 62nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, but the team where he once wore the “C” on his chest as the captain of the organization. The Blues and their fans loved Backes, but the now 35-year-old decided to test out the free agent market back in the 2016 offseason, when he signed a five-year, $30 million contact with Boston to have a chance to win the Cup – and now he finally does.
Jordan Binnington has a connection with the Bruins organization as well, as he once played 28 games with the Providence Bruins back in the 2017-18 campaign, finishing the year with a 17-9-0 record along with a 2.05 GAA and a .926 save percentage. His time with Providence may be a strength for Boston as the coaching staff has experience with his tendencies and any possible weaknesses that he may or may not have.
Aside from all of that, this should be one hell of a series. The team to win four games first will hoist Lord Stanley above their heads. Game One from Boston takes place Monday, May 27th at 8:00pm EST. Welcome to the Stanley Cup Finals. May the best team win.