Honestly, if you told me in January that Boston and St Louis would be the final two teams in the Stanley Cup Finals, I would have done a spit take of my beer. And then told you why you were wrong. But that’s what great about hockey: it is a truly unpredictable sport. Coming out of the regular season, there were better teams. Some teams had better numbers. Some had better momentum which is beyond important in hockey. They all eventually fell and we’re all a little shocked about the matchup we are about to see. So RIP any chance at winning a bet in ice hockey. It’s like predicting a coin flip: 50-50 shot.
Not that I am alone in this feeling. Even look at our writers and their brackets here at The Turf and only one has the Blues even making the finals. Most had them losing to the Jets back in the first round. As far as Boston, only two writers had them going to the finals but both have them winning over Calgary. That said, they are both Boston fans so I call shade and biased. So let’s take a second to process what we are about to watch in the Finals. What do these two underdogs have to offer?
Both teams have scored exactly 57 goals to arrive into the finals. That number is not especially important but it is fun that it’s the same! Boston specifically will be looking to Patrice Bergeron to keep up his scoring flurry. He has 10 goals in the playoffs so far. The first line is the key to Boston’s entire offense. Bergeron plays with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Collectively, they are responsible for 24 of Boston’s goals. Yes, their lower lines show promise but they are not as consistently predictable. That said, all three of those stars often find themselves in the penalty box. They are as skilled as heavy hitters as they are at scoring. They also all love a fight. If St Louis draws the penalties, this could shut down their line’s ice time and have Boston relying on the lower lines for more production.
St Louis is a different story. Throughout the playoffs, St Louis has enjoyed a dangerous combination of scorers on almost every line. Their best-producing line right now is led by Braden Schenn in the center and carries Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz on the wings. Schwartz is the one to watch on this line for his aggressive forecheck and unrelenting steam. They generally run fourth or third in the lineup. The whole squad for them has with no real stars, it becomes hard to predict how to stop the offense entirely. They are known for scoring on pressure and muscle rather than finesse. They dump the puck low and try to force rebounds and turnovers for opportunity. Basically, they throw pucks and bodies towards the net and see what sticks. If you hit something enough, it will hopefully make a mistake. Can this philosophy work against Boston goalie Tuukka Rask?
This should be St Louis’s biggest worry. The Boston defensive core is a special group. Zedno Chara alone is enough to inspire fear. His 6’9″ frame helps but he is a truly skilled and deeply intelligent player. Rounding out the squad is Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy (the phenom from last season), Brandon Carlo and more. These players hold the blue line and often contribute to the offensive play via assists or even scoring. However, they have been plagued with injuries this year. Though that has made them adjustable, it also shows a weakness or possible way to exploit. But honestly, when a recurring injury is your biggest worry and you have back up plans, how worried are you actually?
St Louis has a solid core as well. Again, no real stars. No real stand outs. But the same philosophy of taking away opportunities for the opponent with physical play. It has been working for them. They beat the San Jose squad when most of the league playoff scoring leaders were in the front lines for the Sharks. Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester are the two to thank for that and I expect to see them standing up to Marchand quite a bit in the finals.
Here’s the deciding factor in my opinion. And that deciding factor is Tuukka Rask. Rask is a season veteran and seems to have a mystical strength in the playoffs. He is leading the playoffs Goals Against allowed by a decent margin. He also has the best save percentage in the league for the playoffs. It is exceedingly rare for those to go hand in hand. All of that when he has seen 500+ shots in the playoffs alone. Basically, what can’t this guy do? He’s a brick wall right now.
Jordan Binnington has also seen 500+ shots but he hasn’t done nearly as well in the numbers game. My philosophy on him is different than most experts. I honestly think he looks out of his league in the playoffs. He had a 1.89 GAA in the regular season but is now at 2.37. For reference, Rask’s leading number is 1.84 GAA per game. He played better in the San Jose series but still seems to be fine. He is far from the great young hotshot he was in the regular season. With the Bergeron line about to crash into him, almost literally, he needs his defense to protect him from the fury.
In the regular season, these two teams split their two games, each winning one. Momentum in this season’s playoffs has been a tricky thing. All of the front runners lost to an underdog that was on a win streak. RIP Calgary, Washington, Tampa Bay and more. However, Boston has been sitting at home waiting to play. St Louis has been playing. The biggest minus for Boston is being cold after time off. Will this swing momentum to St Louis?
I’m not calling it. I lost my bracket int he first round. I’m just going to enjoy this one. But if you are trying to call it, I hope this helps! Yay Hockey!