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Playoffs Dayoffs: Preview and discussion thread, 5/27

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Final-ly

Feb 23, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller (86) defends against St. Louis Blues center Tyler Bozak (21) during the second period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Puetz Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

As it is written, the NHL has waited the requisite 40 days and 40 nights, and thus we prepare for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. I’m sorry, just one moment, let me check those numbers. Six days?! This is going to be a long Summer.

Until then, we can sit in front of our glowing living room squares and watch what should have been a triumphant series with shoulders rounded and eyes wet, hoping that a similar misery is about to befall the St. Louis Blues. There seems to be no love in the greater hockey world for the Boston Bruins either, and it’s understandable: why root for a team that won just eight years ago, and a city that has already won four World Series and six Super Bowls since 2000?

For San Jose Sharks fans, though, the Stanley Cup Final isn’t about who you root for, so much as who you root against. A Blues Stanley Cup would validate dangerously injurious play, passive trade deadlines, and Jay Bouwmeester and Tyler Bozak lifting the chalice before Joe Thornton. More importantly, it would make the club of Cup-less teams that much smaller, and we get lonely enough as it is.

What’s on tap

St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins Game 1
5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
You may not have heard this before, but the last time the Blues made it to the Cup final was in 1970, during which they were pretty unceremoniously swept by these very same Boston Bruins. Well, not the same Bruins, as only current captain Zdeno Chara was on the team for that series, but the narrative is hard to avoid. St. Louis made the final for all of the first three years of their existence, went 0-12 to be swept out of each one (twice by the Montreal Canadiens, once by the Bruins (you may have heard of that series, someone named Bobby Orr fell down I guess)), and haven’t been back since. Before you laud them for that accomplishment, the Blues were merely the least bad of six expansion teams for those three years, one of whom was guaranteed to make the Final (because the playoff format made no sense at the time and has since been completely fixed).

Both of these teams seem to reinforce the idea that entering the postseason hot is paramount. The Blues (again, as you may have heard) sat last in the league on January 3, and posted a league-best 30-10-5 record from then on, jumping up to third place in the Central and setting them up for this opportunity. The Bruins, for their part, did not sit on their laurels in the new year, putting together a 25-6-1 run from the Winter Classic through March to distance themselves from the third place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic. That distance guaranteed the Bruins Game 7 at home in the first round, which proved to be one of the decisive factors that pushed the black and yellow through their only real challenge to date.

This looks to be about as close as a series can be, with most prognosticators predicting six or seven games. Game 1 will probably be a bit of a feeling out process, though, with Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy seeing how effectively he can keep Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak away from Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Jaden Schwartz, and the Blues testing to see if anyone can beat Tuukka Rask ever again.

Who’s hot?

Jordan Binnington: While the Blues’ 25-year-old rookie goaltender rose and fell over the course of the regular season (and through some of the playoffs, sporting a solid, but unremarkable .914 save percentage through 19 games), he certainly found another level against the injury-plagued Sharks. The Sharks played well enough in fits and starts through their last three losses in the Western Conference Final, but Binnington’s .974 through that span would be tough for anyone to beat. Can he keep it up against a much healthier team showcasing the best line in hockey with last change?

David Krejci: This should really be Rask, but last time we were here, both hot players were goalies, and one of them was Rask, so there has to be some variety. He’ll get his due while he’s being handed the Conn Smythe on Saturday (that’s right, Bruins in three, baby). While the Bruins’ top trio will get the lion’s share of the dangerous opportunities and the plaudits, their depth up front has been at least as important in their reaching this point. The Bruins’ second line, featuring Krejci centering Jake DeBrusk and by turns David Backes, Karson Kuhlman, and Danton Heinen, has accounted for nine of the team’s 32 goals at 5-on-5. If they can distract O’Reilly enough to open up the top line, or take advantage of a slightly easier match up otherwise, they’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

We’re watching

The slot.

Both of these teams have excelled so far this playoffs at getting inside their opponents’ defenses. The Bruins have dominated the high danger scoring battle at 5-on-5 so far to the tune of a dominant 150-130 lead, can they continue to create those chances down low against a St. Louis defense that is large, mobile, and quite literally dangerous? For St. Louis, their ability to get in front of the net and create chaos so that Colton Parayko could launch bombs into traffic was significant. Can Boston’s smaller defenders like Matt Grzelcyk and Torey Krug keep them outside to protect Rask from deflections and bounces off of Justin Braun‘s shin pads defenders?

What are you looking for?