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Game 1 Recap: Old School Hockey
It’s safe to say game one of the Stanley Cup Finals did not disappoint.
The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues kicked off game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals with plenty of old-school hockey action. Boston came out of the gates absolutely buzzing, creating two potential scoring opportunities within the first three minutes. After that, it seemed to look like they lost their edge all the way through to the second period. The Blues would end up scoring two straight goals to open up the scoring, and both goals came off of defensive lapses and brutal turnovers by Boston. The first goal was simply a matter of needing to clear the puck out, as the Bruins had multiple opportunities to clear Tuukka’s rebounds. Ultimately they failed and left Brayden Schenn all alone at the point to rip one high-blocker on Rask.
The second goal, however, was simply unacceptable this late into the season. David Pastrnak tried a simple reverse behind his own net on a dump-in and assumed Chara was trailing behind. You shouldn’t be assuming things like that this late in the year, because Chara was actually stalling in front of the net, probably assuming himself that #88 was going to take it down the ice himself. Long story short, Pastrnak handed the puck to Schenn on a golden platter, who fed it to Tarasenko from behind the net, where he put it away on Rask to give the Blues a commanding 2-0 lead minutes into the second.
This year when St. Louis scored the first goal, they were 10-3, and 6-1 when leading after the first period. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Boston playoff hockey, no lead is safe until you hear the final siren.
Just over a minute later, Sean Kuraly found Connor Clifton on a cross-ice pass into the crease, that #75 slipped in past Binnington to bring it back to a one-goal margin. The Bruins took this momentum from the goal and absolutely ran with it, seemingly not giving St. Louis a chance to rebound. The Blues seemed to be quite flustered, especially #6, Joel Edmundson. Edmundson played very dirty and unsportsmanlike hockey and really hurt his team with his ten-year-old like temper (you can probably tell I don’t like this man very much). In total, the Blues tallied 10 PIM, 2 of which helped Chuckie Bright Lights convert on the Bruins' third PP of the night to tie the game back up at two goals apiece. Boston had plenty more opportunities to take a lead in the second, but missed chances and good goal tending by Binnington prevented that for the time being. Something quite remarkable is that Boston held St. Louis to only THREE shots in the second period, compared to their EIGHTEEN. Absolute dominance in the second period by Boston.
Five minutes in to the third, a simple dump and chase was all Boston needed to get a shot on net and to convert that rebound in to the back of the net, as Sean Kuraly absolutely buried a Noel Acciari shot from the crease to give Boston their first lead of the series, and they never looked back.
The most iconic part of the night was easily Torey Krug’s monstrous hit on Blues rookie Robert Thomas. After being manhandled by David Perron in front of his own net and losing his helmet as a result, Krug ran full speed 150 feet down the ice and ran right through the Blues rookie, getting the crowd fired up and creating another Blues-Bruins Stanley Cup Final masterpiece photo.
Brad Marchand would ultimately send the Blues out with an empty-netter, to make the final score 4-2 in favor of Boston. It seemed that the Bruins abundance of experience really helped them persevere through the hard times they faced in the first period. The Bruins have over a combined 1200 minutes of Stanley Cup Final experience, whereas the Blues only have one player with Finals experience, and he only had 60 minutes, at that.
Rask looked a little shaky on the two goals, and even though they weren’t his fault, they were still shots he might’ve been able to save if he played more aggressively. Again, he didn’t let the noise get in his head and focused on playing his game and turned away the Blues' next 11 shots to seal the game. Rask deserves a lot of credit for being able to bounce back, but it seems TD Garden only needed to see one goal to get back in the game and get in St. Louis’ heads, as the Blues never got a chance to get back up.
It should also be noted that Jordan Binnington is looking quite human. He didn’t seem like he was some amazing goalie playing with MVP numbers as he has been. He quite honestly just seemed normal. As someone who is known for having such a strong mental game, it should be noted that he was caught slamming his stick on the ice after the third goal. It may not seem like a big deal to most, but it looks like the pressure is really getting to his head, so hopefully, the Bruins take note of that and get more shots low on him to keep him moving and to get more rebounds.
One thing the Bruins can definitely do better is controlling the puck in their offensive zone. It seemed like for a lot of the time, Boston was playing hot potato in St. Louis’ zone, forcing bad passes and not keeping the puck flat on the ice. This was especially noted on their PP, as it was quite poor last night compared to how it’s been in the previous series'. They were a wretched 1-5 on the night, where their only goal came for Charlie McAvoy’s unassisted rocket of a wrist shot. Whenever Boston tried to settle the puck, a Blues player was there to steal it back and clear it down the ice. Even with these simple mishaps on offense, Boston still managed to generate 38 SOG, almost double of what the Blues had, at 20.
The Bruins did all of this with their first line being non-existent. I didn’t see much of Patrice Bergeron the whole night, didn’t see Marchand until his empty-netter, and the only time I saw Pastrnak do something was when he gave St. Louis their second goal. The inconsistency of Boston’s top unit has been the story of this playoffs, as no one ever knows when they’re going to show up or not. Leaving game one and heading into game two, Bruins fans should rest assured knowing our chances are in good hands. If our first unit decides to score Wednesday, with the help of our defense and amazing goaltender, it doesn’t seem like St. Louis has much of a chance of defeating this squad.
2019 Stanley Cup Finals Preview
I was wrong.
My most recent article, which I wrote the day after the Boston Bruins clinched the sweep over the Carolina Hurricanes, had predicted the San Jose Sharks to prevail over the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals. Since I wrote that, the Sharks caught the injury bug and never won another game. So I predict St. Louis to win the Stanley Cup. Kidding, of course.
In all seriousness, I was not expecting this St. Louis team to do so well against such an explosive offense like San Jose. Yes, Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, and Timo Meier all got hurt in their last game, and Martin Jones was about as good as moldy Swiss-cheese, but ten goals in their last two games for the Blues was not something many saw coming. Coming into this series, they had one of the quietest offenses left, but they didn’t let that dictate their future play. Jordan Binnington was as close to Tuukka Rask as a goalie can get right now, and he will surely be a problem for the Bruins come May 27th.
The Blues are notoriously known for being a slow and heavy-hitting team these playoffs, and they play a similar style to Columbus, who Boston played in the conference semifinals. The Blues have tallied a total of 558 hits this year in the playoffs. That’s quite a substantial number. But, the Bruins are no stranger to physical, old-time hockey, and I think Boston will be throwing just as many hits back.
The Bruins’ prosper is just about in every other category. Their special teams have been phenomenal this whole 2018-19 season, especially in the playoffs. The Bruins held Carolina to only one power-play goal on fourteen attempts. Unreal.
A lot of Boston’s success, however, starts with the man between the pipes, #40. Rask has been nothing short of an absolute brick wall and is currently playing the best hockey of his life. Assuming he didn’t lose his edge over their long break, I expect Rask to be the goalie we all know he can be, and hopefully lead his team to their second Stanley Cup in less than a decade. It shouldn’t be forgotten that St. Louis also has the second-best goalie of this year's playoffs in Jordan Binnington, like I previously stated. The rookie looks as composed as any veteran we’ve seen, not seeming to show any emotion or decrease in quality of his play.
Goals will be scarce this series, but Boston has shut down virtually all three of their opponents' top-six forwards. The Bruins haven’t given the likes of Svechnikov, Panarin, or Matthews, to name a few, much room to play the game most people know them for playing. The Bruins also have more depth than any team in the league, never mind the Blues. Players like Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, and David Backes are going to be tough for St. Louis’ bottom-six to deal with, as they’ve been contributing just about as much to the table as our top-six have been. Backes is facing his old club on the grand stage, and I expect him to want to go out there and make the Blues organization regret not keeping him.
If there has to be one dark-horse for Boston this round, it’s going to have to be Jake DeBrusk for me. The way he’s been talking in interviews, he knows how lucky he is to be in this situation. Jake has been a solid player but hasn’t really found his stride. He has three goals and four assists in all 17 games played so far these playoffs, and I think he’s going to give St. Louis’ shallow defense absolute hell.
The way things stand now, it seems like we’re going to be in for a very entertaining 2019 Stanley Cup Championship. It’s the first time these teams have met in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1970 - and we all know what happened then. The Bruins will hope to repeat that, and add on to St. Louis’ hatred for Boston sports teams (Cardinals, Rams both lost to Red Sox and Patriots in their respective championships).
My Prediction: Bruins in 6
Well, That Was Easy
Well, I didn’t see this coming.
I knew all along the Bruins were the better hockey team, like I said in my previous article. However, not many people usually see a four-game sweep in the third round of any playoff series. These were supposed to be the two best teams left in the East, and it seemed like Boston was playing an AHL squad at times.
It amazes me how this same Hurricanes team just came off of a four-game sweep of a very tough New York Islanders team, and it honestly had me scared. But, it seems as they went through the same scenario the Blue Jackets did when they were entering round two: cold feet and no chance to get back up. The Bruins came into this series playing dominant, downhill hockey and it seemed that the Hurricanes just weren’t ready after such a long break.
Boston started off with two dominant wins, where they tallied five goals in each game. The offense was clicking, and even more importantly, Carolina’s goalie, Petr Mrazek, was not. I don’t know what changed with him when this series began, but he looked like he should’ve been playing with the Charlotte Checkers (the Hurricane’s AHL affiliate). He just clearly was not ready for playoff hockey of this magnitude, and Boston was.
This series (and playoff) MVP was without a doubt the man between the pipes for Boston, Tuukka Rask. In all seriousness, I’ve never in my life seen this man, or many other goalies in general, for that matter, playing so well. Rask posted a clean 4-0 record this series, with a 1.25 GAA and 0.956 SV%, with the series-clinching shutout in game four. He is even putting up numbers miles better than 2011 Conn Smythe Winner Tim Thomas, the last time Boston hoisted Lord Stanley. Over Boston’s 2011 run, Thomas posted a 2.29 GAA and 0.929SV%, which are still amazing numbers. However, Tuukka Rask has managed to make them look mediocre. I’ll be the first to admit that I was never easy on Rask in previous seasons, as I really questioned his ability to bring a team far into a playoff run. I now admit with pride that I was 110% wrong, whether the Bruins come out of this next series victorious or not. If the Bruins manage to lose the next series, it’s not going to be Tuukka’s fault regardless, because, without him, they would be on the golf course right now.
What scares me though is history repeating itself for Boston. Like Carolina and Columbus, we have seen that coming into a series after a sweep spells disaster for at least the first game or two, so I think those games will be the most important for Boston to win. If they can manage to get in the W column for at least one of the first two games, I really like their chances to win the Stanley Cup. A question that also needs to be answered is the status of Boston’s sixth defenseman. If we end up with John Moore in the tail end of the lineup, we’re in for some serious trouble (5 games, 0 points, -4 +/-). Last updated May 7th, Kevan Miller was not ruled out by GM Don Sweeney for the playoffs, even though he didn’t make it for the ECF. If he comes back, I think the Bruins have an even better chance of winning than they do already.
I Called It: A Bruins-Blue Jackets Series Recap
Not saying I called it, but I did.
The Bruins-Blue Jackets series was not one to disappoint. Every aspect of this series for both teams was great. Boston finally saw the return of their regular season hero in David Pastrnak, who doubled his goal tally in this series compared to the quarterfinals. He also scored Boston’s GWG in the dying minutes of game five, which was very important to win heading back to Columbus for game six.
Like I said in my previous article, “I’m confident in our defense and goalie to hold off the likes of Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, who have been leading the way for Columbus on offense. What this series is going to come down to, in my opinion, is which team’s goalie plays better, as tough as that is to hear.”
Not only did our goalie play plenty better (will get to that shortly), our defense also played amazingly well to hold off Columbus’ star-powered offense. Columbus managed only 11 goals in this six-game series (1.83 goals/game), while Boston managed 11 goals in the last three games of the series alone, totaling 17 in total (2.83 goals/game).
This disparity had most to do with Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask. This series was memorable for Tuukka, as his stat line is Conn Smythe worthy. Rask managed a 1.71 GAA and a .948SV% in the semifinals, and he’s hoping to keep that momentum rolling into the next series. The icing on the cake for Rask was the amazing 39-save shutout he earned in game six to send the Bruins to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2013.
What should also be noted is Charlie McAvoy’s dangerous hit on Josh Anderson of Columbus, for which he will serve a one game suspension for, even if it didn't appear intentional. Columbus fans (and even Boston fans) were outraged when they found out he only received a two-minute minor penalty, as everyone thought he’d be heading to the locker room. Missing game one of the Eastern Conference Finals will be a big blow to Boston as they have to get a big series opening win without one of their top two defensemen.
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We're on to Columbus: A Bruins-Leafs Series Recap
For the third time in double as many years, the Bruins and Maple Leafs faced off in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the series certainly didn't disappoint.
In one of the craziest first rounds of playoff hockey in recent memory, fans got their dosage of an Original Six rivalry in this series. Almost everyone predicted this series would go seven games; one of the only things most people got right in their playoff predictions.
It started off very shaky for the home-team in Boston, as they let up four straight goals in game one to see themselves down early in the series, even though they had home-ice advantage. Both goalies played good hockey, and most people noticed that theme throughout the rest of the games as well. Tuukka’s one lapse was on Marner’s absolutely filthy penalty shot, and I don’t think any goalie could keep their pads in front of that puck.
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