There are a lot of reasons the Stanley Cup Final is headed to a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night.
The play of Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is definitely at the top of that list as he continues to put together a postseason effort for the ages.
Right behind him has been the constant special teams struggles of the St. Louis Blues.
That issue showed up again in their Game 6 loss on Sunday night, and it happened right from the start.
With a frenzied crowd behind them and a chance to clinch their first ever championship, the Blues were given a fantastic opportunity to strike first just two minutes into the game when Sean Kurarly was whistled for a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from the defensive zone. The ensuing Blues power play disappeared without a goal (or even the threat of a goal), something that would happen three more times throughout the night.
The 0-for-4 performance on Sunday dropped the Blues’ power play to just 1-for-18 in the series and leaves them with only a 15.4 success rate for the entire playoffs. Just how bad of a percentage is that? Consider that a 15.4 power play percentage in the regular season would have finished 28th out of 31 teams in the entire league. So it’s been bad. Very bad.
Sunday’s struggles certainly weren’t for a lack of chances as 12 of the Blues’ 29 total shots in the game came on the power play, only to have every single one of them shut down by Rask. On one particular play in the second period it was a team effort between Rask and Charlie McAvoy that only had to add to the Blues’ frustrations.
Still, the end result was the same. A lot of opportunities. Some decent chances. And no goals.
“Well, we had 12 shots,” said Blues coach Craig Berube when asked about his team’s struggles on the power play.
“We did have momentum, we had some good looks. We didn’t score. Rask made some good saves. Can it be better? Yeah, it has to be better. It could have won us the game tonight, but I don’t think it was … we had good looks. We had 12 shots on the power play tonight, but we’ve definitely got to bury a couple.”
Making matters worse is that shortly after the Blues failed to score on their early power play attempt, and when they were still dictating the early pace of the game, another early series issue resurfaced for the Blues — their at times stunning lack of discipline.
It was then that Brayden Schenn was sent off for a careless hit from behind to put the Blues shorthanded, which was followed just a minute later by Ryan O'Reilly shooting the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty to give the Bruins an extended two-man advantage.
They did not waste it.
After a failed Blues’ clearing attempt, thanks in part to a great defensive play from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand scored his second goal of the series when he wired a one-timer behind Jordan Binnington to give the Bruins a lead they would never really come close to surrendering the rest of the night.
Just like that all of the early momentum the Blues had built for themselves with a fast start was completely gone because the power play could not score, they could not stay out of the penalty box, and they could not keep the Bruins off the scoreboard when they did take a penalty.
“We did have some good looks and some good chances, but you need the result,” said Ryan O’Reilly regarding the power play. “There were a few times there where it could have given us the spark we needed, to grab the momentum. Unfortunately we didn’t. But we’ve gotta let this one go and bounce back quick and get it done there.”
The overall numbers for the series are quite stunning when it comes to special teams play. Through the first six games there have been nine special teams goal scored between the two teams. Eight of those goals (seven power play and one shorthanded) have been scored by the Bruins.
The Blues’ discipline and penalty kill struggles really hurt them in Games 1 and 3, and their power play has held them back the entire series. Even though the special teams may not have been the biggest contributing factor in Game 6, they certainly played a role in turning it into a rout on the scoreboard and robbing the Blues of a chance to clinch the series.
If Game 7 turns into another special teams game, or if the Blues are unable to flip the script in that area from what we have seen in the first six games, it could result in the franchise’s first ever championship slipping through their fingers.