Joakim Nordstrom

Blues win first Stanley Cup by bottling Bruins

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The wait is over for the St. Louis Blues.

This franchise has been around since 1967, so leave it to Jordan Binnington – a goalie in his first season, who only recently became the Blues’ starter – to lead them to the promised land.

And boy, did Binnington ever do that. The Blues won their first-ever Stanley Cup by beating the Boston Bruins 4-1 in Game 7, but that final score is awfully misleading.

The Bruins dominated the flow of play, particularly during the first period, yet found themselves down 2-0 after the opening 20 minutes. The Bruins didn’t just roll over and die after falling in that early hole, but they also couldn’t find much room against St. Louis, who played a perfect road Game 7 with everything on the line.

Whenever the Bruins did find some daylight, Binnington slammed the door shut. Binnington ended Game 7 with 32 saves, with some of his best work coming in the first period, although his third-period save on Joakim Nordstrom probably ranked as the backbreaker.

While the Bruins’ lone goal spoiled the shutout for Binnington, it’s fitting that Alex Pietrangelo‘s goal will stand as the game-winner. That tally, which came with less than 10 seconds remaining in the first period, made it 2-0, and really deflated the Bruins.

As brilliant as Tuukka Rask had been during the Bruins’ run within one win of another title for the city of Boston, Binnington was far superior on this night, and that’s what most of us will remember from Game 7.

Judging by the reactions in St. Louis, it’s also a performance that Blues fans won’t ever forget.

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.

Bruins vs. Blues: Three keys to Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final

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There’s good news and bad news for hockey fans.

On one hand, you get to witness Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. On the other hand, this is going to be the final meaningful game until October. So make sure you enjoy tonight’s game, because the off-season begins tomorrow.

Everything either team has done before now is absolutely meaningless if they don’t come away with a win tonight. The Blues and Bruins will have to put together their best effort if they’re going to win it all at TD Garden tonight.

What specific things do these two teams have to do to win? Let’s take a look.

• Depth players have to chip in

It would be shocking to see a wide-open Game 7 tonight. Expect to see both teams play a physical, tight-checking game, because every mistake will be magnified. That means that the star forwards on either team may not have much room to operate throughout the game. So, it might be up to some of the depth players on either side to decide the result tonight.

By now, you may have heard that Boston has 19 different scorers in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The depth that they’ve displayed since the start of the postseason has been second-to-none. Can they squeeze a little more production out of Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom or Noel Acciari?

The Blues have had a strong fourth line of their own, and they’ll be getting Ivan Barbashev back after he was suspended for Game 6. Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alex Steen have been really good on the fourth line for the Blues, who have also received depth contributions from guys like Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford throughout this series.

• Game-6 Binnington can’t make another appearance 

Obviously, both teams need to make sure that their goalies don’t cost them the game, but the Blues have to make sure Jordan Binnington turns in a better performance than he did in Game 6 on Sunday night. Binnington has found a way to bounce back a number of times since taking over as the team’s starting netminder, so there’s no real reason to doubt him heading into the biggest game in franchise history.

As for Tuukka Rask, it would be shocking to see him drop the ball tonight. He’s clearly the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy right now, and he’s come up huge whenever the Bruins have needed a big result. Down 3-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was there in Game 6 and 7. Down 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round, he was there, again. Rask has been in the zone all postseason and expecting anything else in Game 7 would be silly, right?

• Walk that fine line

It’s no secret that both teams need to play with a physical edge to be successful. They’re both loaded with skill, but that extra grit is what has carried them this far. That should continue to be the case on Wednesday night, especially for a Blues team that likes to keep the game simple when they’re on the road.

Here’s the issue: you have to be able to play that physical style without taking penalties. Neither team can afford to spend much time playing shorthanded in Game 7. It’s just too risky of a proposition. Yes, both teams have been able to generate goals or scoring chances while shorthanded at different points of the series, but they can’t take that gamble with everything on the line. Basically, unless it’s a puck-over-glass penalty or something that prevents a goal from happening, you can’t afford to sit in the box tonight.

So play with an edge. Just make sure you don’t force the officials to call a penalty.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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.

Stanley Cup Final: Kuraly breaking through for Bruins

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If you handed out an MVP trophy for the best player of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (rather than the full postseason, with the Conn Smythe), then Sean Kuraly would be the unlikely frontrunner for the Boston Bruins.

Kuraly’s been crucial in the Bruins taking a 2-1 series lead through the first three games against the St. Louis Blues, scoring two goals (both of Boston’s game-winners) and two assists.

Even for those of us who targeted Kuraly as a potential surprise breakthrough candidate really didn’t see this coming.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a way, Kuraly’s getting all the bounces he wasn’t enjoying during most of this postseason, all at once. His two goals during the past three games came on just five shots on goal, good for a 40 shooting percentage. Kuraly’s 3-0 goal from Game 3 qualifies as a head’s up play, but there was also some luck involved in catching Jordan Binnington by surprise with such a quick release (and maybe partial screen?), not to mention the luck of surviving the offside review.

But, again, there’s an argument that Kuraly has been “due.”

Through the first 13 games of his postseason run – Kuraly missed some time due to hand surgery – Kuraly fired 38 shots on goal, matching Blues forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Oskar Sundqvist, and Brayden Schenn, who generated that many in 19 games (and more average ice time, most glaringly for ROR and Schenn). Even if you chalk up some of that shot volume to quantity over quality, Kuraly had been unlucky, only scoring two goals and five points, giving him just a 5.3 shooting percentage.

Delightfully, the deeper you dig into Kuraly’s stats, the more it looks like the Bruins unearthed another gem.

Any scoring from Kuraly should be considered gravy, because he’s really been asked to do a lot of the dirty work for the Bruins.

So far during the postseason, Kuraly’s begun an absurd 89 percent of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone. (According to Natural Stat Trick, he’s had 48 defensive zone starts, 68 in the neutral zone, and just seven in the offensive zone.)

Considering his heavy workload, it’s impressive that Kuraly’s largely broken even in the possession game, and the Bruins have actually generated more high-danger chances for (35) than against (32) at even-strength with Kuraly on the ice.

That’s … pretty remarkable, especially for a nominal “fourth-liner.”

One of Kuraly’s defining skills is his speed. As The Point noted heading into his postseason debut, Kuraly uses his skating to be an absolute beast in transition, which is likely part of the reason that Bruce Cassidy loves deploying him in such heavy defensive assignments.

Cassidy also singled out Kuraly as a player who deserved more recognition in April:

Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final likely ranks as the high point for Kuraly, along with his linemates Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari.

Not only did Kuraly score a gritty game-winning goal and set up Connor Clifton with a tremendous pass, but that trio drew the occasional assignment against the Blues’ top line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz. It says a lot about Kuraly’s line – and Cassidy’s confidence in that line – that they got that opportunity, and didn’t just earn a draw, but occasionally actually won the matchup against Tarasenko’s group.

Looking forward, it’s tough to tell if Kuraly might be a more regular scorer.

The 26-year-old managed eight goals and 21 points in 71 regular-season games, managing a solid 134 SOG considering his modest TOI average of 13:46 per game, but his shooting percentage was low at six percent. Kuraly’s career shooting percentage is even lower at 5 percent, and the sample size isn’t tiny at 154 games. It’s fair to wonder if Kuraly may be lacking a bit as a shooter.

Of course, opportunity plays into the discussion.

Kuraly saw his ice time climb significantly once January rolled around, a lot like Sundqvist with the Blues, he’s seen a prominent role during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kuraly’s averaging 15:37 TOI per game, fifth-most among Bruins forwards, ahead of Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and Danton Heinen.

The Bruins probably aren’t sweating the question of whether Kuraly can ascend in the lineup, or if he’ll merely remain a really, really good depth player.

That’s because Kuraly has the contract that figures to give Boston a competitive advantage. Via Cap Friendly, Kuraly’s cap hit comes in at a measly $1.275 million, and it runs through 2020-21, with no sign of performance bonuses.

Boston’s shown an uncanny knack for supplementing top players like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with smart late first-rounders like David Pastrnak, and hidden gems such as undrafted Torey Krug. By getting Kuraly in the Martin Jones trade, and locking him up to an extremely cheap contract, the Bruins seem to have struck it rich again with Kuraly.

If he keeps scoring, even better, but the Bruins will gladly take the version of Kuraly who was quietly winning tough matches for them.

Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

BREAKING DOWN BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
Bruins blast Blues, take 2-1 lead in Stanley Cup Final
Blues special teams continue to be sour note 
Berube keeping the faith in Binnington after rough Game 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.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: Bruins blow out Blues in Game 3

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  • To some extent, Game 3 felt over minutes into the second period. After Sean Kuraly‘s 3-0 goal stood, David Pastrnak made it 4-0 on the resulting penalty from the Blues’ offside challenge. Even when the Blues showed a modicum of life in making it 4-1, Torey Krug‘s power-play tally made it 5-1 about a minute later. We may not see much garbage time in this series, but the third period felt mostly like that, although the Bruins still managed to score against Jake Allen after he replaced Jordan Binnington. Yeah, it was that kind of night for the Blues.

Boston Bruins 7, St. Louis Blues 2 (Boston leads SCF 2-1; Game 4 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

The Bruins’ power play supremely overpowered the Blues in Game 3. Boston went 4-for-4 on the man advantage on Saturday, and all four of those goals were scored in the first minute of those opportunities. Pretty mind-boggling stuff, and it made for a tough – and short – night for Jordan Binnington. When you lose 7-2, one thing can’t explain your struggles, and that was true here. Boston also dominated at even-strength, and scored the first four goals of Game 3, making you wonder how much St. Louis’ modest successes came from the Bruins merely taking their feet off the gas a bit. It would be surprising if we see more blowouts in this series, although the Bruins are playing at a level that continued dominance isn’t out of the question.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Torey Krug

Krug might have topped his wild, helmet-less hit from Game 2 with his Game 3 performance, as he managed an impressive one-goal, three-assist night. Krug’s four points is the most in a single SCF game in Bruins history.

The defenseman’s four points topped all players in Game 3, as he continues to be one of the leading catalysts of Boston’s peerless power play. His 5-1 goal killed any sense of momentum for the Blues, while all three of Krug’s assists were primary ones. Krug logged 22:09 TOI with an output that slightly outpaced other players, such as a strong secondary choice:

2. Patrice Bergeron

Bergeron scored an important 1-0 goal for the Bruins, beginning a dominant night for Boston’s power play. He also added two assists (though both secondary), and after some attention was drawn to Game 2 issues like relative struggles on draws, Bergeron went 11-8 in the faceoff circle on Saturday.

If you want, you can look at the top two stars as a collective award for the Bruins’ deadly power play in Game 3.

3. Charlie Coyle/Marcus Johansson

It would be too easy for the Blues to chalk everything up to special teams.

While Johansson scored his goal (and Coyle collected his assist) on a victory lap power-play goal to make it 7-2, the Bruins’ deadline duo also combined for a very nice goal to make it 2-0. Johansson provided a great setup, while Coyle showed great timing and precision in scoring that goal. So, each forward ended Game 3 with a goal and an assist.

You could make a decent argument for Tuukka Rask (27 out of 29 saves), Joakim Nordstrom (two assists), and maybe some others. That’s the nature of a 7-2 whooping. Coyle-Johansson deserve a mention for their great work, both on Saturday, and in general.

Factoids

How to watch Game 4

Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

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.