Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues is set for tonight (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). These two teams have used excellent goaltending and their incredible depth to push them to this point. But how can they gain the early advantage in this best-of-seven series?
Let’s take a look at the three keys to victory ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final:
• Winning the special teams battle:
The Bruins head into this series rocking some incredible numbers on special teams. Their power play which is ranked first in the playoffs is clicking at 34 percent, while their penalty kill is at 86.3 percent (that’s fourth in the postseason). On the other hand, the Blues’ power play is firing at 19.4 percent and their penalty kill is at 78 percent.
Clearly, the Bruins have an advantage in this area heading into Game 1. Not only do the Blues have to find a way to limit Boston’s power-play opportunities, they need to make sure they can get some production on the man-advantage. The good news, is that Vladimir Tarasenko is starting to come around.
The Russian winger picked up at least one point in each of the games in the Western Conference Final and he’s picked up a power-play point in each of his last three games. Getting contributions on special teams will be an important part of Game 1 and this entire series.
[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
• Depth contributions:
The depth players on both sides have played important role for their teams throughout the postseason. The Bruins have 19 different goal scorers during their fun to the Stanley Cup Final, which is nothing short of remarkable in today’s game. They can get goals from all over their lineup at any time. As good as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are, they’ll need help if the Bruins are going to win their second title of the decade.
As for the Blues, they can also rely on a lethal first line, which is made up of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko, but other players have also come up big for them in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Robert Bortuzzo scored a huge overtime goal in the Western Conference Final, and the fourth line of Oskar Sundqvist, Alex Steen and Ivan Barbashev have also made a difference.
Both top lines will get the toughest possible matchups throughout this series, so continuing to get scoring from unlikely sources will be huge for any team looking to take an early lead in this series. Both teams are also coming off long layoffs (Bruins haven’t played in 10 days and the Blues have been off for five days) which means getting off to an electric start may prove to be difficult. Having multiple lines going will be important in Game 1, especially early.
• Limiting the slot shots:
The Bruins have generated 150 high-danger chances throughout the playoffs. Only the San Jose Sharks (167) have created more of those chances in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. As for the Blues, they rank third in that category with 148 chances for. The biggest difference between these two teams is the amount of chances they’ve given up. St. Louis has allowed 169 high-danger chances against, which is 39 more than the Bruins have given up (all stats obtained via Natural Stat Trick).
Both goalies in this series, Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington, have been outstanding throughout the playoffs. They can cover up some of their teams’ breakdowns, but asking them to stand on their head might be a little much at this point. These are the two best teams in the league and asking the goalies to steal the show might be a little much.
These teams are both loaded with size, which they’ll have to use if they’re going to prevent the opponent from getting into dangerous scoring areas. This series is going to be a battle, and it all starts tonight.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.