Almost 50 years after they were swept by the Boston Bruins in their last Stanley Cup Final appearance, the St. Louis Blues have avenged their 1970 defeat in historic fashion, beating the Eastern Conference champions 4-1 at TD Garden on Thursday night to claim their first title.
The Bruins entered with the upper hand, touting home ice after dropping four goals on Blues rookie goalie Jordan Binnington in a 5-1 Game 6 rout, but he stifled an early onslaught of offense to start Thursday's showdown. That allowed St. Louis to hold a 2-0 lead after two periods despite taking only six of their own shots at the halfway point of the action. From that point forward, with Boston fans muzzled and the Bruins' biggest names back in the shadows, St. Louis simply put on a clinic, demonstrating pitch-perfect checking, transition defense and penalty killing -- all before a pair of third-period goals sealed their first title in franchise history.
For a team that sat in last place on the first day of 2019, the Blues looked a whole lot more like a veteran playoff team than the Bruins, who were essentially sapped of all energy and rhythm as early as the end of the first period. Ryan O'Reilly made history by getting St. Louis on the board first, tipping a shot past Tuukka Rask to become the first player to score in four straight Final games since Wayne Gretzky in 1985. Scoring strikes from Zach Sanford and Brayden Schenn in the final eight and a half minutes sealed the deal, with only a late tally from Matt Grzelcyk putting Boston on the board.
Entering Game 7, it was anyone's guess as to which version of the Blues and Bruins would actually show up. Boston seemed like the clear-cut favorite after an opening-game victory that established them as the "been there, done that" veterans of the series, and the Blues needed overtime to barely hang on in Game 2. A 7-2 blowout in the subsequent matchup seemingly reaffirmed the Bs as the team to beat for the Cup, but St. Louis stole the series lead with two straight wins, including one at TD Garden, before yet another Bruins explosion in Game 6 -- a 5-1 rout that marked the long-awaited emergence of Boston's first-line stars.
Discipline haunted the Blues at various points in the series, with two different players warranting suspensions for illegal hits, and yet it was St. Louis that stayed locked in when it mattered, particularly in Game 7. Aside from a first-period delay of game that played into Boston's early momentum, Craig Berube's squad remained laser sharp, especially on defense, to maintain their initial 2-0 lead.
Relive the entire championship finale right here:
Boston has no answers, little life through two periods
After starting so aggressively and effectively in the first period, the Bruins seemed as if they'd slip one past Jordan Binnington in no time. The subsequent 35 or so minutes, however, proved Boston's early surge may have been nothing more than a mirage. Even with St. Louis managing just six shots on goal at the halfway point of Game 7, the Blues were in total control for the entirety of period two, squashing any hope of a quick rebound for the Bs on their home ice with a defensive clinic, particularly in transition through the neutral zone.
More Binnington stonewalling sucked more life out of not only Boston's scarily quiet first line but a TD Garden crowd that at one point dished New England Patriots Super Bowl highlights in order to spark cheers.
If not for some help from the crossbar, Tuukka Rask may have also surrendered a third Blues goal in the second.
Blues strike first -- and second -- despite Bruins' early dominance
The Bruins had everything going for them to start Game 7. Right out of the gate, they absolutely peppered Jordan Binnington with shots and had great movement in scoring range. They limited St. Louis to just one shot on goal more than 10 minutes into the opening period. A nonsensical delay of game on an airmailed pass by Colton Parayko even gave Boston the first extra-man advantage of the night. But Binnington refused to back down, blanking Boston with a number of close stops.
Ryan O'Reilly, meanwhile, rewarded Binnington's perseverance by putting the Blues on the board first with 3:13 left in the opening period, tipping a hard shot from Sammy Blais past Rask and setting a franchise record with 22 career postseason points in the process.
If St. Louis' sudden lead seemed improbable due to the Bruins' obvious energy advantage early in the game, Alex Pietrangelo ensured TD Garden would keep quiet for a while longer. He charged the net during a bad change for the Bruins and put the puck past Rask to increase the Blues' lead to 2-0 with 7.9 seconds left in the first.