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Stanley Cup Final: Blues have dominated even strength play

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If you are a St. Louis Blues fan you have plenty of reason for optimism heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Not only is your team just two wins away from its first ever championship, but it has shown a tendency all postseason to up its game the longer a series goes on (we looked at that trend here). What should make that even more encouraging for the Blues is that through the first four games they have already demonstrated an ability to carry the play for significant parts of this series and be the better team. Yes, a lot of that time came when the Bruins were shorthanded on the blue line and limited to just five defenders, but even before those injuries the Blues have simply been the superior team at even-strength so far.

Through the first four games the Blues have dominated the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers, owning more than a 55 percent share of the attempts in each category and hold slight edge on the scoreboard, outscoring the Bruins by a 10-8 margin when the sides are even.

The Blues have not only managed to control most of the even strength play, they have completely shut down the Bruins’ top two lines through the first four games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

As the Boston Globe‘s Matt Porter pointed out on Thursday, the Bruins’ six 5-on-5 goals in this series have been scored by Sean Kurarly (two), Charlie Coyle (two), Joakim Nordstrom, and Connor Clifton, while no player on their top-two lines or top-two defense pairings other than Zdeno Chara has a point during 5-on-5 play.

Brad Marchand‘s goal in Game 1 came in an empty-net situation.

That is it for the Bruins at even-strength scoring through the first four games where the Blues’ top lines are still winning those head-to-head matchups.

Where the Bruins have managed to hang around in the series and take control is on special teams, where they have been — by far — the dominant team. The Bruins have already scored six power play goals (on only 16 attempts for a 37.1 percent success rate) and added a shorthanded goal on top of that.

The Blues meanwhile have managed just a single power play goal.

Put it all together and that means when the series has shifted into a special teams battle the Bruins are owning a 7-1 edge on the scoreboard. That is significant.

We put so much emphasis on even strength play because that is the situation we see most often in a random hockey game and where most goals get scored. But special teams goals still count, and if you have one team that is dominating that portion of the game the way the Bruins are it can completely swing a series. It is probably the biggest reason the Blues are not playing for a chance to actually clinch Stanley Cup on Thursday and why the Bruins still have a chance to take control for themselves. If the Blues are going to put themselves in a position to clinch the series in Game 6 (or even a Game 7) it is going to be a necessity for them to keep these games at even strength for as long as possible and play as disciplined a game as they did in Game 4 on Monday night. Their lack of discipline got them in trouble early in the series, and could hurt them again if the revert back to their early series ways.

They have proven through four games they can be the better team when things remain even on the ice, and even if you again go back to the amount of time the Bruins played down a defender in those situations you still have to consider that Chara and Matt Grzlecyk may not be 100 percent on Thursday even if they do play. That could still be an area the Blues exploit.

The Blues have every reason to be optimistic about the way they have played, because they have put themselves in a great position to pull this off.

If they can avoid turning these next couple of games into a special teams game, there is every reason to believe they can actually win it.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 5:
• Bruins’ Chara to be game-time decision
• Report: Chara has broken jaw
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 5
• The Wraparound: Bruins need more, especially from second line
• Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options

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.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.