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Stanley Cup Final Preview

The stage is set. The St. Louis Blues will play the Boston Bruins in an epic best-of-seven showdown for hockey’s ultimate glory. When it is all said and done, either Alex Pietrangelo or Zdeno Chara will have the honor of raising the greatest trophy in the history of sports, Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games last night to advance to the Finals for the first time since 1970. Their opponent in that series was none other than the Bruins, who swept St. Louis behind one of hockey’s most iconic moments, Bobby Orr’s “flying goal”.

Of course, that legendary photo happened nearly 50 years ago, and while much has changed since then, the Blues undoubtedly have some long overdue revenge on their minds.

This series is fascinating in terms of the juxtaposed roads taken by both teams to the Final. As per usual, the Bruins took care of business in the regular season and after a close call in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they coasted to the Finals with relative ease, capped by a dominating sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes.

On the other side, the Blues were the exact opposite in the regular season, firing their head coach Mike Yeo just 19 games into the season and replacing him with Craig Berube. They stumbled into the new year dead last in the NHL and many thought that once-competitive St. Louis was finally moving towards a rebuild.

However, the Blues never said die and dominated the second half, which was highlighted by an impressive 11-game winning streak. This late-season tear surged them to a third-place finish in a very competitive Central Division and had them back in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

From there, St. Louis fought hard in every series, knocking off the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, and San Jose Sharks to advance to the Finals. Their unlikely run has been remarkable in every sense of the word and they appear more motivated than ever as they set their sights on Boston.

This should and will be a fun series from start to finish. Two very tough, physical teams represented by two of the NHL’s loudest and most passionate fanbases. Here is my breakdown of the position battles in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.

Forwards

No one will argue that Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is the best in hockey, which already gives them an edge in this category. The Bruins’ bottom three lines are also very effective, combined with a blend of size, skill, grit, and strong defensive play.

The Bruins will lean heavily on their top line to do a bulk of the scoring, but keep an eye on players such as David Krejci, Marcus Johannson, and Charlie Coyle, who have all been excellent this postseason.

The Blues possess a deep forward group of their own eerily similar to Boston’s, emphasizing strong, gritty two-way play. This series will definitely not have a shortage of hits and chippy play.

St. Louis’ top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko will give Boston a run for their money, while players such as Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon can bury big goals when needed.

One of the biggest things to watch this series is the play of each team’s fourth line. Both coaches love to start the periods with their fourth lines and this series could very well be determined by whichever line plays better.

Advantage: Boston, but it’s closer than most people think

Defense

Size matters, at least when it comes to hockey. One thing the Blues have going for them is their size on the blueline, where the average height of their defensemen in 6’3″. That size allows them to be one of the most physical defensive groups in the NHL, making it especially tough for smaller forwards to maneuver around them.

One downside for St. Louis is that their blueline doesn’t generate much offense outside of Colton Parayko and their captain Alex Pietrangelo, who has quietly been one of the NHL’s best defenders. They’ll need this duo to continue their strong play if they want to win.

As for Boston, outside of Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo, their blueline does not boast that much size. However, this hasn’t stopped the likes of Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy from playing strong defense, as well as chipping in offensively. They’ll face their biggest test yet with the Blues big, fast, and physical forward group.

The biggest concern for the Bruins’ blueline at this point is the health of Chara. While he will undoubtedly play, it will be worth monitoring his play and workload in each game. If his injury holds him back in any way, Boston will be in trouble.

Advantage: St. Louis

Goaltending

This matchup is a no-brainer. Tuukka Rask has been the best player in the Stanley Cup playoffs by a mile and should win the Conn Smythe trophy if the Bruins win it all. Rask has played the best hockey of his career and has put up otherworldly numbers. If he’s on, Boston will win.

With that being said, you still can’t count out the Blues’ rookie sensation Jordan Binnington. While his play has been nowhere near as strong as Rask’s, he was St. Louis’ MVP this season and has been the backbone of their historic Cinderella run. He will be more motivated than ever to finish the job.

Advantage: Boston

Special Teams

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are special teams wizards. They can score and make plays on the powerplay and kill penalties better than anyone. Boston fans will tell you that they feel reassured when they’re on the ice in these situations.

In addition to the former two, players such as Coyle, Krejci, Johansson, Pastrnak, Krug, and McAvoy will be effective on the powerplay, while Kuraly, Carlo, and Chara excel on the penalty kill. Make no mistake, the Bruins special teams units are forces to be reckoned with.

The Blues special teams might not be as strong, but they still pack a powerful punch. St. Louis will use their size and strength advantage to pepper Tuukka Rask with shots and hope for big rebounds to bury. Keep an eye on Robert Thomas and St. Louis native Patrick Maroon.

On the penalty kill, the Blues boast a formidable two-way forward of their own in the form of Ryan O’Reilly, who can kill penalties and capitalize on mistakes almost as well as Bergeron. Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev have also wreaked havoc on the PK, using their speed to create numerous shorthanded chances.

Advantage: Boston

Coaching

Both Bruce Cassidy and Craig Berube have roughly the same amount of NHL coaching experience and both took on heavy responsibilities at one point when their predecessors were fired. Both men are good coaches who put their respective teams in the best position to succeed. There’s not really a distinct advantage here.

Advantage: Push

The “Gloria Bowl” will begin on Monday, May 27, after we’ve all enjoyed a long Memorial Day weekend. TD Garden will be packed and louder than ever as we watch two very good hockey give it everything they have.

While the Blues have had a great run, it’s tough to pick against Boston considering how good Tuukka Rask has looked. This will be a great series, but ultimately, the city of Boston will continue their dominance of the new millennium and bring home another championship.

Prediction: Bruins in Six


Photo: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

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