San Jose Sharks fans watching Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final may have experienced a fair bit of schadenfreude as the St. Louis Blues were, for much of the contest, unable to resist the siren’s call of the TD Garden penalty box. The Boston Bruins, as they have all postseason, made them pay, scoring the game tying goal in the second period with the man advantage, and taking advantage of the Blues’ seemingly constant stutters in momentum to cruise to an adjusted shot attempt share at 5-on-5 of 55.9 percent, and their own stifling neutral zone and defensive zone play to earn a high danger shot attempt share of 83.23 percent.
As hockey fans, very little brings us more joy than the sweet and savory suffering of teams we don’t like, and as Sharks fans, seeing the Blues’ players absolutely flabbergasted about being penalized for crosschecking opposing players faces has been cathartic. Fun isn’t usually something one considers when bringing balance to the NHL, but this does put a smile on my face.
What’s on tap
St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins Game 2 (BOS leads 1-0)
5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
Heading into tonight’s festivities, St. Louis is 0-13 in Stanley Cup Final games, and 0-5 in Stanley Cup Final games against Boston. That sounds damning in a vacuum, but since four of those games were in 1970, the Blues’ chances of stealing home ice before returning home for Games 3 and 4 improve dramatically. While the Blues lost Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against San Jose in pretty decisive fashion, this Game 1 seemed to have a different tone. The Sharks beat the Blues 6-3 in the opener to their series, but St. Louis led the shot attempt share by a convincing 54.22 percent. The Bruins, on the other hand, seemed to dominate the Blues territorially after the first period or so, at one point holding their visitors to just one shot on goal from inside the Boston blue line in a 27 minute span.
The Blues will need to figure out how to get inside the Bruins’ defense in the offensive zone to challenge Tuukka Rask, who seems to have shaken the rust off after an early goal on Monday. Rask allowed just one more goal on 16 subsequent Blues shots though, as noted above, not many were particularly dangerous. On the other end, Jordan Binnington was not exceptional, but he’ll need a lot more help from his skaters tonight than he got during Game 1.
Vladimir Tarasenko: After a rough start to the postseason, managing just five goals and no assists in the team’s first 13 games, Tarasenko has found his rhythm, tallying four goals and nine points in a seven game point streak. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy seemed comfortable matching Tarasenko against his fourth line of Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, and Noel Acciari after Tarasenko’s goal and, while the Blues’ top trio outperformed that crew in most respects, it freed up the rest of Boston’s roster to wreak havoc. If the Bruins are continuing with that strategy, it will fall upon the Tarasenko - Brayden Schenn - Jaden Schwartz crew to create even more offense than they’ve done so far.
Sean Kuraly: Speaking of the Bruins’ depth, former Sharks prospect Kuraly scored Boston’s game winning goal with a really absurd showcase of skill while being matched against the best the league has to offer. Kuraly’s line was outchanced and outpossessed overall by Schenn’s line, but their ability to hold the Blues’ stars in check for long enough to get back on the board after Tarasenko’s tally is commendable. As long as they can keep St. Louis’ biggest threats to a dull roar, the rest of the Bruins’ forward group will have to be answered somehow.
Penalties aren’t the only reason the Blues dropped Game 1. Their defensive coverage and gap control through the neutral zone were both abominable. Many times the Bruins would make a series of passes coming into the offensive zone that were perplexing not because they were so good (even though they were), but because it was weird to see an NHL team have so many options available to them so many times. Brad Marchand was stopped by Binnington on a sweet backhand try only because Joel Edmundson was busy making sure there was plenty of room for God between them in case a teacher walked past. St. Louis is going to have to control gaps better in this game, and not be so afraid of Boston’s skilled forwards because, in Game 1, that fear killed them faster than skill will.
Say that ten times fast.