2019 Stanley Cup Final: Breaking down the matchups between the Bruins and Blues
Who has the advantage?
The Stanley Cup Final gets underway next week and we have the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues set to go head-to-head for the toughest trophy to win in all of sports. These are two teams that have had very different roads to the Cup Final, but they're also two teams that have a lot of similarities in their makeup and the ways that they find success.
So how do they match up? Let's examine the different aspects of each team -- including forwards, defense, special teams and goaltending -- and see who has the edge.
Bruins: The front end of Boston's forward group is headlined by a line that is undoubtedly one of the best in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That first line is not only lethal on the offensive end (22 goals between them in all situations through 17 games in these playoffs) but they're also a shutdown force against top talent. Even when they're not lighting up the scoreboard, they're usually doing a fantastic job defensively.
Here's a glimpse into Bergeron's body of work through the first three rounds:
While those guys do the heavy lifting and get most of the glory up front, the Bruins also have some key secondary pieces in David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk -- two guys who can often serve as spark plugs. They're not putting up particularly gaudy numbers this postseason (4-10-14 for Krejci, 3-4-7 for DeBrusk) but they can be streaky and both have game-breaker potential.
Blues: Vladmir Tarasenko is St. Louis' most important player up front and he caught fire in the Western Conference Final. Tarasenko had three goals and eight points in the six-game series against San Jose, picking up at least one point in every game. He pairs size and skill with a filthy shot and he will be to be the guy that the Bruins key in on because he is the conductor on the Blues' offensive train.
Alongside Tarasenko on the top line are Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, who has been outstanding this postseason . Schwartz already surpassed his regular season goal total (11) with his 12 playoff goals, in large part due to two hat tricks already in these playoffs, and he leads all Blues players in points with 16. He has been a strong net-front presence for St. Louis so it's important not to let him find time and space in prime real estate.
The Blues' second line is led by center and two-way horse Ryan O'Reilly, who -- like Bergeron -- is a finals for the Frank J. Selke trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL this season. Despite an inconsistent postseason, O'Reilly is second on the team in points (3-11-14) and he, along with winger David Perron, can excel at frustrating the opposition.
Bruins: Boston went out and got Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline to bolster its depth and that duo has been very good for the Bruins' third line throughout these playoffs. Coyle (6-6-12) has size and strength and Johansson (3-6-9) brings excellent vision and play-making ability in a depth role. Danton Heinen has also been quietly impressive beside them on the third line and he owns the Bruins' top goal share (84.6 percent) this postseason.
The fourth line has been quite effective and reliable this postseason as well, but they suffered a key loss when Chris Wagner went down with an injury in the Eastern Conference Final. Noel Acciari stepped in and did a fine job in Game 4 but losing Wagner is an unfortunate hit for a unit that was delivering on a consistent basis, especially of late.
Blues: St. Louis' depth has been an area of strength this postseason, and that was especially true in the Western Conference finals. The Blues got steady contributions from bottoms six forwards and every forward in the lineup had at least one point during their series against the Sharks.
Their third line of Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and Robert Thomas brings together a mix of size and skill, and also youth and veteran presence. Thomas' numbers have been modest (1-5-6 through 19 games) but the 19-year-old rookie has done much more for St. Louis than the numbers indicate, and he's probably due for more production.
But the real gem for the Blues has been their fourth line of Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen. That line was at their best during the Western Conference finals, as those guys accounted for five goals and consistently made positive things happen on the ice. They brought tremendous energy and pressure on the forecheck, forcing turnovers and creating offensive opportunities off of those takeaways. They allow coach Craig Berube to roll with four lines without having to worry about taking his team taking its foot off the gas.
Bruins: The Bruins' defensive unit has taken big strides this season, primarily because of their young talent. Charlie McAvoy has an all-around game and he has only gotten stronger as these playoffs have carried on. Brandon Carlo has developed into a legitimate shutdown defenseman and he has been outstanding in his first playoff run. Those two have become this team's best players on the back end.
And then there are the veteran guys; Zdeno Chara has looked his age at times but he's still largely holding his own. Torey Krug has shouldered his typical facilitator duties but has also been very, very solid on the defensive end.
The Bruins have evenly distributed time with their top four on the blue line, with McAvoy, Chara, Carlo and Krug all averaging over 20 minutes. (McAvoy leads the team with 24:20 average TOI.) But even the third pairing has been very good, as Matt Grzelcyk continues to be an underrated third pairing piece, while newcomer Connor Clifton has filled in admirably for an absent Kevan Miller.
They've gotten quite a bit of help from their red hot goaltending, which we'll get to momentarily, but the Bruins defense is playing a major role in the team allowing just 1.94 goals per game through three rounds -- best in the playoffs.
Blues: St. Louis is a defensive-minded team that's biggest strength comes from its blue line. They lean heavily on Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, with both of them averaging around 25 minutes. Pietrangelo leads their defensive group in points (2-11-13) but Parayko isn't far behind (1-10-11) and he has been incredible for them lately.
Those are the two main attractions at the top of the offensive zone, where the Blues love to work low-to-high, high-to-low to as they generate traffic and opportunities directly in front of the net. But they've also gotten solid defensive contributions from Joel Edmundson, Vince Dunn and Carl Gunnarsson. Even Robert Bortuzzo has been able to slide in admirably where needed.
Jay Bouwmeester averaging over 23 minutes might be somewhat concerning, but the 35-year-old has done a good enough job beside Parayko to continue shouldering that workload.
Overall, the Blues have been really strong in their own end, especially to finish off the San Jose series. They're allowing an average of 2.53 goals in the playoffs and gave up just two goals in the final three games against the Sharks. They did an excellent job of forcing pressure to the outside and limiting the amount of high danger chances that came directly in front of Jordan Binnington.
Bruins: The Bruins' power play has been absolutely dominant this postseason and is converting at a 34 percent clip (17 for 50) through the first three rounds. To put that in perspective, only two Stanley Cup winners since 2000 have had a power play percentage of 24 percent or better -- the 2006 Hurricanes (24.0) and the 2018 Capitals (29.3). The man-advantage has provided a major boost in big-time spots for Boston throughout this run, especially against Toronto and Carolina. Their penalty kill has also been quite good, killing off 86.3 percent of the penalties they've taken.
Blues: The Blues' power play has been streaky. They had a productive opening round against the Winnipeg Jets but then struggled in round two and saw those issues carry into the Western Conference finals. At one point in the WCF they had gone 0-for-their-last-18 man-advantage opportunities. But they eventually turned things around, scoring at least one power play goal in the final four games against the Sharks, going 5 for 15 during that stretch. They're converting at a 19.4 percent rate overall. Their penalty kill is operating at 78 percent efficiency.
Bruins: Tuukka Rask is the hottest goaltender in these playoffs and he's arguably playing the best hockey of his career. Rask has posted a .942 save percentage through three rounds and is clearly the Bruins' MVP to this point with an incredible 13.64 goals saved against average. He's coming off an Eastern Conference finals in which he stopped 109 of 114 shots, good for a .956 save percentage. Not bad for a guy who "doesn't show up in big games."
Blues: Jordan Binnington has been just as good as the Blues have needed him to be during these playoffs. Overall, the rookie has handled the pressure well and has looked really good at points. However, he has also looked quite beatable at other times, though it should be noted he usually bounces back strong after a tough outing. He has a .914 save percentage through three rounds and a minus-1.36 goals saved against average.
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