How the Bruins and Blues match up in the Stanley Cup Final
The Bruins and St. Louis Blues aren’t exactly equals in all areas, but there are enough similarities that Bruce Cassidy called them “twins” when sharing his first thoughts about the official Stanley Cup Final matchup.
Certainly, they've engaged in physical, hard-nosed and low-scoring games the past five-plus seasons when they've met and that bodes well for the entertainment value in this championship series. There are high-end, dazzling offensive talents in David Pastrnak and Vladimir Tarasenko, top flight, high-end defenders in Zdeno Chara and Alex Pietrangelo, and two very hot goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington.
So, there will be no shortage of excellent players and it should be a pounding series that shouldn’t lack for entertainment. It should also end with a Bruins series victory and another title for Boston based on the B's more experienced players and perhaps even a little dash of the home-ice advantage coming through in the end.
The prediction here is the Bruins in seven games over St. Louis. Here’s how we see it all breaking down:
The Blues have the single-most dangerous forward in the series, Tarasenko (pictured), who has averaged 36 goals the past five seasons. He can take over a series and certainly win a game if he’s allowed to go off offensively. He's done that before. But the Bruins have three 30-goal scorers in their Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak and the most prolific forward with Marchand hot on the heels of his 100-point season. Both teams have excellent depth among their four lines and Blues forwards Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron are certainly formidable when looking at the depth of both teams. Still, the Bruins have more high-end offensive players and the more lethal power play and that should give them the edge. After all, the B’s could have one of the most historically potent power plays in the history of the NHL. EDGE: BRUINS
The Bruins certainly have their share of big-bodied defenders with the 6-foot-9 Chara, 6-5 Brandon Carlo and the physical Charlie McAvoy. Still, the Blues have a big defensemen corps that starts with 6-6 Colton Parayko and doesn’t get much smaller with 6-3 Pietrangelo (pictured, far left) and 6-2 Carl Gunnarsson as their smallest D-men. Pietrangelo brings it offensively with 13 goals and 41 points from the regular season and Blues defenders can move the puck in addition to throwing their bodies around. The Bruins have a good blend of puck movers and offense providers as well and clearly, both teams do many things well on the back end. Torey Krug has been excellent in the playoffs while overcoming his size deficiencies and McAvoy and Carlo have really taken the next step in their development. But the size and strength of the St. Louis defenders could end up being a big factor, so give the Blues the ultimate edge here. EDGE: BLUES
Rask is the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy based his play this postseason. Rask has a 1.84 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage in 17 playoff games and he’s also pretty clearly motivated to have a strong Stanley Cup Final after losing to the Blackhawks in 2013. So, he’s clearly in a zone after dominating in the first three rounds and has the experience edge with the considerable challenge that he hasn’t played in 11 days. Binnington is a rookie sensation who posted five shutouts after getting called up to the Blues in January, and has led St. Louis all the way to the Final. Binnington hasn’t been as lights out as Rask with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in the playoffs, but he’s been excellent when St. Louis has needed him to be with a poise beyond his years. The one difference-making quality between the two could be Rask’s past Cup Final experience. EDGE: EVEN.
The Bruins have killed it with a power play that’s scored on 34 percent of its opportunities through the first three rounds. They've ridden that special teams play in the playoffs much as they did in the regular season. The Blues were top 10 in both power play and penalty kill in the regular season. Certainly, the Blues have some talented penalty killers and that’s where their big, strong blueline group comes in, but the Bruins also have Chara (pictured) as the most dominant penalty killer of them all when he’s right. The best area that the Blues can hope to do some damage is when they’re on the PP featuring Tarasenko and his lethal shot. The difference here as it’s been in all the playoffs thus far is Boston’s power play. If the top unit is humming, then it’s going to be an uphill special teams battle for the Blues. And Boston eventually cracked the Columbus penalty kill, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t do the same against St. Louis. EDGE: BRUINS
Obviously, Craig Berube has done a strong job since taking over for the Blues at midseason and he’s been a big part of the St. Louis turnaround with the same hard-nosed and unbending attitude he featured as a player. But he’s also a relatively inexperienced playoff coach who been riding the wave for months now while Bruce Cassidy has been building up to this point the past three seasons. Cassidy has outcoached Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and Rod Brind’Amour in the first three rounds with in-game adjustments, wise lineup choices and the right touch when it comes to motivating his players. By contrast, Berube carries an air of intensity and, like Cassidy, has learned lessons from his first NHL head coaching go-round with the Flyers that didn’t end all that well. There’s no doubt Berube has been an asset in St. Louis and will have his moments in the Final, but this seems as if it's Cassidy’s time to shine after pushing all the right buttons to get here. The Bruins haven’t lost a game in the playoffs since Cassidy tapped David Backes to play in the Columbus series. EDGE: BRUINS