Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final

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When Carl Gunnarsson scored at the 3:51 mark of overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, he gave the St. Louis Blues their first ever Stanley Cup Final win.

They return home on Saturday night with a chance to take the lead in the series in Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; Live Stream) when they host the Boston Bruins.

So far it has been a tough, physical series and there is no indication that is going to change on Saturday night. Both teams have had stretches where they have carried the play, and given that the Blues are returning home to play in what should be a charged up environment the Bruins should be prepared to weather an early storm.

Here are the three keys for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

• Discipline … again

This has been the talking point for the Blues so far in the series, and we have to keep mentioning it because it keeps becoming a factor.

Through the first two games the Blues have already been shorthanded 10 times (to only five times for the Bruins) and have already surrendered a pair of power play goals. The Blues’ inability to stay out of the penalty box helped crush any momentum they had built early in Game 1, and then nearly got them into trouble in Game 2.

The Bruins’ power play has been a nearly unstoppable force throughout the postseason, converting on more than 31 percent of their chances. That is one of the highest marks in the history of the league and it has helped drive the team’s offense.

The Blues can not keep giving that unit chances to take over a game because it has shown time and time again this postseason that it can do just that. If the Blues can keep this a 5-on-5 game they have to like their chances. But if they can not help themselves when it comes to taking penalties they run the risk of losing a huge opportunity to win their first ever championship.

It is pretty clear that this series has a physical tone to it, and the Blues obviously want to try and impose that on the Bruins, but there has to be a line between playing physical and playing reckless.

During the first two games the Blues have had a difficult time walking that line.

• Bruins’ top line

If there is a concern early on for the Bruins it might just how quiet their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak has been over the first two games. So far they have managed just one empty-net goal while also getting outscored, outshot, and outchanced when going head-to-head against the Blues’ top line that is being driven by an incredible hot streak from Vladimir Tarasenko.

They have enough of a track record — both individually and as a group — that they should be expected to snap out of this little funk because it is awfully hard to imagine them having three consecutive off games. But sometimes slumps happen to even the very best players, and if one starts to get away from you early in a best-of-seven series that could be the difference between winning and losing the whole thing.

“March, Pasta, Berge and Krej are all first for scoring, so they’ve done it in the Playoffs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on Thursday. “Not maybe in these two games, it’s short sample size, but that’s what we’re looking for. The better players perform, better chance of winning. I expect they’ll be better in St. Louis offensively. We’ll go from there.”

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Krejci has combined to score 27 of the Bruins’ 63 goals so far in the playoffs, but in the first two games of the series they have managed only the aforementioned Marchand empty-netter, while Pastrnak (an assist) is the only one that has contributed to another goal.

Depth scoring is an essential ingredient to winning, but the Bruins are still going to need their top players to find the back of the net, especially if the Blues’ top line — and especially Tarasenko — continues to play the way it has.

• Both teams missing key depth players

It is all the result of one play in Game 2.

The Bruins will find themselves playing without defender Matt Grzelcyk after he was injured on a hit by Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist early in Game 2. Grzelcyk isn’t one of the stars on this Bruins roster but he has become an extremely valuable player due to his ability to move the puck and help feed the team’s transition game. They missed that element after he exited Game 2 and were unable to consistently contend with the Blues’ aggressive forecheck.

It could be an issue in Game 3 and beyond if he remains sidelined.

He will be replaced by veteran defender John Moore. It is not only a drop off in terms of what to expect out of that spot on the third-pairing, but it also puts more pressure on Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug to make more of an impact because they are only two other defenders on the roster that can excel when it comes to moving the puck.

That play also resulted in Sundqvist being suspended for Saturday’s game, putting a pretty significant dent in the Blues’ depth.

Sundqvist has been a great find for the Blues on their fourth line and had a breakout 2018-19 regular season performance that has carried over to the playoffs where he has had a knack for scoring some big goals while also playing a sound defensive game. But his hit on Grzelcyk was a reckless one and was the second time in the first two games that he took a bad penalty by delivering a bad hit from behind.

The first one cost the Blues in Game 1 when McAvoy responded on the ensuing power play with a game-tying goal.

The second one cost them by removing a key depth player (Sundqvist himself) out of the lineup for Game 3.

Along with Sundqvist, the Blues will once again be without rookie forward Robert Thomas.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

More Blues-Bruins Game 3:
The Wraparound: Stanley Cup Final returns to St. Louis
Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist suspended
Blues’ Tarasenko sniping at Ovechkin-like level
Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins
Blues’ top line getting best of Bruins’ top line so far

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.