The Stanley Cup Final isn't just about great hockey, it's also about great stories.
Last year, there were no shortage of storylines when the Capitals, a perennial playoff "choker" in a sports city starved for success, took on the Vegas Golden Knights, a team that defied preposterous odds to make the Cup Final in its inaugural season. Regardless of who won it was going to be an incredible outcome, and ultimately the Capitals prevailed.
This year's matchup between the Bruins and Blues also brings a number of intriguing storylines that should help drum up interest even for the casual or neutral fan. As usual, there's plenty on the line over the course of the seven-game series, so let's take a look at six talking points that go beyond the X's and O's.
Blues' chance to finish an incredible second-half comeback
It's incredible that the Blues are in the Stanley Cup Final considering they were dead-last in the league standings at the start of January. Dead-last in the entire league to the Cup Final in about five months? How does that happen?
Well, the horrible start led the team to fire head coach Mike Yeo. He was replaced by interim head coach Craig Berube. It wasn't an immediate turnaround under Berube but, despite some initial struggles, they began finding success with their new coach's system.
Of course, the arrival of Jordan Binnington didn't hurt either. With starting goaltender Jake Allen struggling in net, the Blues turned to Binnington and gave him his first career start on Jan. 7. In 30 regular season starts, Binnington, 25, went 24-5-1 with a .930 save percentage and was a catalyst in Blues' turnaround. His work was enough to make him a rookie of the year finalist.
After Jan. 3, the Blues went 30-10-5 to finish the season, earning the third-place playoff spot in the Central Division.
David Backes faces his old team
Backes will be playing in his first Stanley Cup Final and the opponent will be quite familiar to him. He spent the first 10 years of his career with Blues and became a fan favorite in St. Louis. He served as team captain from 2011 until 2016, when he left St. Louis to join the Bruins via free agency.
Backes' production hasn't exactly lived up to his contract in Boston but he's been a valuable veteran presence in the lineup and in the locker room, especially during this postseason. He started the playoffs as a healthy scratch but eventually seized his opportunity to stick in the rotation. His heavy game has made life tough on opponents and the 35-year-old has been skating surprisingly well. He's got two goals and three assists in 11 games and has been playing on the right side of the Bruins' second line.
Two Selke finalists going head-to-head
Both the Bruins and Blues have a Selke finalist at center. The Bruins' top line is led by Patrice Bergeron, who is essentially the gold standard for two-way centermen and has won the Selke as hockey's top defensive forward four separate times. Against top competition, he's owned a 56 percent shot share and 69 percent goal share (nine goals for, four goals against) at 5-on-5 this postseason. He's also won 59 percent of his face-offs in these playoffs.
Here's a look at how some top opponents have done against Bergeron through the first three rounds:
Patrice Bergeron top matchups by series— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) May 17, 2019
65 min, John Tavares on-ice for 1 goal
35 min, Artemi Panarin on-ice for 1 goal
30 min, Teuvo Teravainen on-ice for 0 goals
Centering the second line for St. Louis is Ryan O'Reilly, who was named a finalist for the first time in his first season with the Blues. However, at 5-on-5, O'Reilly has a 50 percent shot share and a 53 percent goal share (10 for, nine against). He's only winning 48.7 of his face-offs this season, which is a significant drop-off from his 56.9 percent rate during the regular season.
Tuukka Rask's chance to silence critics
Rask has had his fair share of doubters in Boston over the years and a popular complaint levied against the Bruins' goaltender is that he "doesn't show up in big games." That argument has been put to rest over the past few months, as Rask has posted a .942 save percentage through three rounds and has an outstanding 13.64 goals saved against average. He might be playing his best hockey... ever.
There have been plenty of comparisons pitting Rask against his predecessor Tim Thomas, who seemingly earned a lifetime pass in Boston after leading the Bruins to a Cup and winning the Conn Smythe in 2011. But people often seem to forget just how good Rask was in 2013. Here's a look at the goaltending numbers through three rounds in each of the Bruins' last three Stanley Cup Final runs.
- Thomas, 2011: 18 GP, .929 save percentage
- Rask, 2013: 16 GP, .943 save percentage
- Rask, 2019: 17 GP, .942 save percentage
Thomas posted a .967 save percentage against Vancouver in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, which the Bruins won in seven games. Rask went .932 against Chicago in 2013, which is still very good, but the Bruins lost in six games.
If Rask continues his excellent play against St. Louis and the Bruins end up lifting the Cup, he will be immortalized alongside Thomas
Another chapter in one-sided Boston/St. Louis rivalry
You probably already know about Boston's run of success since the turn of the century, and you're probably sick of it. Between the four major sports teams in New England, this will be the 18th championship appearance since 2001. The Bruins are responsible for three of those appearances, all coming in the last 10 years. They'll be looking to add a 13th title to the city's resumé.
Teams playing for a championship:— Paulie Playoffs (@stoolsalesguy) May 17, 2019
2004 Red Sox
2007 Red Sox
2013 Red Sox
2018 Red Sox
That's just a preposterous streak of success that is unrivaled by any other city, but St. Louis has had a decent stretch as well. This will be city's sixth title appearance since 2000 and they've got two championships to show for it -- both belonging to the Cardinals (the Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999).
This will be St. Louis' first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970, when they lost to the Bruins in a four-game sweep. In fact, the Blues have yet to ever win a single SCF game, having been swept all three times they've played for the Cup.
It's also worth pointing out that St. Louis hasn't exactly had a lot of success against Boston in the 21st Century. Both of the Cardinals' World Series losses came against the Red Sox, and the Rams lost Super Bowl LIII in the stunning upset that birthed the Patriots' dynasty.
Uncharted territory for Blues
Not only are the Blues making their first SCF appearance in nearly 50 years, literally every single player on the roster is playing with a chance to win their first ring. The only Blues player to even play in the Cup Final prior to this year is David Perron, who did so as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights last season.
A few of the guys that may get more attention in the human interest department:
- Jay Bouwmeester: The 35-year-old defenseman is getting his first kick at the can while playing in his 16th NHL season.
- Pat Maroon: The 31-year-old St. Louis native is in his first season with the Blues after accepting less money in free agency to be closer to his family and play for his hometown.
- Jordan Binnington: The 25-year-old rookie sparked the Blues' second half turnaround and has a chance to join the likes of Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Cam Ward, Antti Niemi and Matt Murray as rookie goaltenders that have won a Cup.
- Robert Thomas: The 19-year-old rookie has emerged for St. Louis during this Cup run and has lived with Blues scout and former Blues player Keith Tkachuk throughout the season.