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Finally, the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues will take to the ice after respective eleven and six day layoffs following their Conference Final victories.
The hype leading up to the event is nearing its end. David Backes, playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, will face his former team as the final hurdle. Bobby Orr’s flying goal 49 years ago will take a bit of a backseat when the current core of Bruins and Blues take the ice on Memorial Day evening.
No more talk of the teams being mirror images of each other. The Bruins and Blues will find that out first hand once the series opening puck drop takes place.
They’re the two best teams in hockey playing for the ultimate prize. The Bruins will have their hands full as they look to snap Boston’s “lengthy” drought of 100 some-odd days between duck boat parades.
With that in mind here’s a look at four keys to the Bruins’ second Cup win of the 2010’s.
Tuukka Rask vs. Jordan Binnington. An unusual goaltender matchup between a one-time Vezina Trophy winner in Rask and a journeyman netminder in Binnington who’s taken the league by storm since arriving in St. Louis.
The Bruins know a little about Binnington during his stop in Providence. He came to the P-Bruins in the most unusual of circumstances via loan from the St. Louis system a year ago. Binnignton’s brief, but solid stint down I-95 in 2017-18 (17-9-0, 2.05 GAA, .926 SV%) resulted in a one-year, two-way contract back in St. Louis.
The 25-year-old hasn’t looked back since his promotion to St. Louis from San Antonio. Binnington followed up a stellar 30-game regular season (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV%, 5 shutouts) with a decent postseason run highlighted by his one goal allowed in the last two games of the Sharks series.
Binnington faced some stiff competition against Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose en route to the Final. But the Bruins, an organization he once called home, provide his biggest test yet. And they know a thing or two from his days in Providence.
So will the Binnington scouting report from goaltender coach Bob Essensa pay off?
“Well, I’d like to think it would help. Goalie Bob [Essensa] knows him. He was down in Providence, so there’s a little extra there,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said during the team’s 11-day layover.
“I don’t think it will affect Binnington much. He’s playing well, I’m sure he’s going to be on this game, play the way he plays, even though it might be a little more inside information that we would have than maybe a San Jose did. But at the end of the day, it can’t hurt, right, to have a little experience with him on some little details.”
There’s more to the intriguing Binnington story than meets the eye. The Bruins will find that out first hand come Monday.
Boston’s precise special teams’ execution played a pivotal role in its run to the Final. But if there’s one area of concern heading into Game 1 it’s the sharpness of both the power play and the penalty kill following the 11-day layover.
The Bruins put the Hurricanes away with ease thanks to an impressive 7-for-15 run with the man advantage and a stout penalty kill that allowed just one power play goal against. They’ve clicked on an astonishing 34 percent of their power play chances — good for first among the 16-team postseason field — to go along with their stout fourth-ranked penalty kill (86.3 percent).
The top power play unit is a threat to score every time they touch the puck. David Pastrnak at the faceoff circle, Torey Krug at the point, Brad Marchand at the half-wall, Patrice Bergeron at the bumper and Jake DeBrusk in front of the net provides nightmares for opposing PK’s.
The Blues sit in the middle of the playoff pack on both the power play (19.4 percent) and the penalty kill (78 percent). Vladimir Tarasenko plays a similar role to Pastrnak on St. Louis’ top power play unit, but the Blues are a little heavier up front and on the back end of both units.
Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak provide primary center roles on the power play and penalty kill. Pat Maroon, Brayden Schenn, Robert Thomas and David Perron give the Blues solid net-front options on the power play. And grinders like Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev and the crafty Alex Steen give the Blues some well-rounded shorthanded personnel.
Both the Bruins and Blues will fight off rust and sloppiness in Game 1, especially on special teams. But make no mistake, the two teams hope to weaponize their power play and penalty kill throughout a likely lengthy series.
Mark down any potential matchup and you’ll have an even situation across the board from defensive pairings to the four forward trios. So it may very well come down to the Bruins’ or Blues’ best players being the difference makers.
The Bruins’ third and fourth lines had their way against the Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. Columbus’ bottom-six provided a tough matchup in Round 2, but the likes of Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson and Sean Kuraly came through with timely goals in the tough-six game series.
The Blues, bottom-six possess a tough matchup too. Steen has top-six experience under his belt. Bozak always provided a tough matchup during his days in Toronto. Maroon always finds ways to score against the Bruins dating back to his days in Anaheim and Edmonton. Thomas, Barbashev and Oscar Sundqvist provide youth on the bottom-six to counter the likes of Kuraly and Danton Heinen.
So, all things being equal, the top-six will foot the bill. But how do you match up the ‘perfection line’ of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak? Do they go up against a Bergeron-like two-way stud in Ryan O’Reilly and his fellow linemates Perron and Sammy Blais? Or does Cassidy put them against the dynamic trio of Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko?
Cassidy has last change at his disposal for the first two games of the series. He’ll need to use that with his top-six matchups as the Bruins try to establish home-ice advantage from the get-go.
“Boy, that’s going to be board material. Experience. I’ll go the easy route,” Cassidy said when he had a tempting question on what gives the Bruins an edge over the Blues during Sunday’s Stanley Cup Media Day.
“I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a cup, have lost a cup, that should give us an edge. Some people disagree with that once you’re here, but I believe it will give us an edge. I think it’s helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the down time, and hopefully going forward that is an advantage for us.”
Bergeron, Marchand, Rask, captain Zdeno Chara and alternate captain David Krejci are the five leftovers from the 2011 Cup triumph. Torey Krug joined the well-traveled vets during Boston’s subsequent run to the Final against the Blackhawks two years later.
That amounts to 71 games of Stanley Cup experience between the six players in a black and gold uniform. John Moore, one of Boston’s extra defensemen, has another four games to add to that total during his time with the Rangers in their 2014 matchup with the Kings.
Moore won’t see the ice unless one of the six defensemen ahead of him succumb to injury. The rest of the roster — sans the six aforementioned veterans — will take the ice for their first Stanley Cup experience come Monday.
The Blues aren’t strangers to going deep in the postseason having just completed their second Western Conference Final appearance in four years. A handful of players on their roster have big game experience in the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey. But there’s one glaring difference: only head coach Craig Berube has at least one game of Stanley Cup experience, and that came during his playing days as a bottom six cog for the Capitals.
The Bruins’ Cup experience should come in handy as the series progresses. Bergeron, Chara, Rask, Marchand and Krejci tasted both the joy of victory and agony of defeat earlier this decade. They know what it takes, and their teammates hope to feed off of that.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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