It’s all come down to this.
For the first time since 2011, the Stanley Cup Final is going to Game 7 and, just like in 2011, it’s the friggin’ Boston Bruins again. While San Jose Sharks fans certainly seem to have split loyalties, considering the St. Louis Blues were the architects of the Sharks most recent ignominious exit and Boston has had more than their fair share of recent championships, a winner-take-Cup game is required viewing for hockey fans of every color.
That last Game 7, which the Bruins took from the Vancouver Canucks by the resounding score of 4-0, featured four players who still wear the black and gold today: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara all helped that Bruins team over the hump (Tuukka Rask was also on that team, but didn’t play during that playoff run because Tim Thomas was Tim Thomas-ing the whole time). Tonight will be Chara’s record-setting 14th Game 7, passing both Patrick Roy and Scott Stevens at 13 for the record.
Historically, Boston has won 15 Games 7 in their history, the most in the NHL, and lost 12, which is not the most inspiring record, but they are also playing their first Game 7 in a final at home in their 95 year history, and 14 of those series deciding wins have been at home. The Blues, for their sake, are an even less inspiring 9-8 in Games 7, and 4-6 on the road. This year, though, they’ve flipped the script in that regard and become road warriors, posting a 21-13-7 record when away from their cozy confines during the regular season, and a sparkling 9-3 in the postseason.
If the Blues win tonight, the narrative will be one about overcoming adversity, about making history, about weathering the ups and downs of a season and reminding everyone that the team was dead last in the NHL in January (did you know that?! Crazy, right?!). If the Bruins win, it will be about St. Louis’ missed opportunity in Game 6 at home, about them failing under pressure, about Boston having rings in the room, and experience at home pushing big players through when it counts.
Right now, though, all of that is conjecture, and the only guarantee is that we will all have a good sporting time, buoyed by mutual respect and good spirits.
What’s on tap
St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins Game 7
5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC, SN TVAS
This will be the 19th Stanley Cup Final Game 7 in the history of the NHL. In that time, home teams have won 12, but road teams won the last two (Boston in 2011, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009). Zooming out a bit, there have been 177 Games 7 in any round of the playoffs, and home teams have won 58.7 percent of them, and four of five this postseason. Going by previous occurrences, there’s about a one in four chance this game gives us all what we really want and goes to overtime, and that may be a low estimate with these two defensive squads and netminders.
The Bruins will reportedly receive reinforcements in the form of Matt Grzelcyk, and the Blues are set to welcome Ivan Barbashev and Joel Edmundson back into the lineup tonight in place of Robert Bortuzzo and rookie/adult contemporary rock sensation Robert Thomas. The inclusion of Barbashev seems obvious: he served his one game suspension for a high hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 5, and Thomas’ 9:21 during Game 6 (lowest among Blues skaters) resulted in no shot attempts and two goals against at 5-on-5.
The Bortuzzo for Edmundson swap is more interesting. The Blues will have two right-shot defensemen and four lefties tonight, which in many circumstances would mean that one of the lefties (probably Edmundson) would have to play on his off side. However, St. Louis’ two right handed defensemen, Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo, are first and second in ice time for the team in the series at 161:04 and 158:07, respectively. Jay Bouwmeester is third at 144:43, but we have to scroll all the way down to ninth to find the next blue liner, Carl Gunnarsson, with 92:01. With nothing for which to save their energy after tonight except partying or golf, it will be interesting to see if head coach Craig Berube decides to have either Pietrangelo or Parayko out for most of the night, and cycle through the other four defenders as their partners.
On the road and bereft of last change, how the Blues coaching staff utilizes their defenders will be a key area of impact for the team, and how the Bruins exploit moments of weakness on one side of the ice will also be fascinating.
Jordan Binnington: We’ve all heard the narrative by now: Binnington is a bounce back goaltender. He’s 7-2 after a loss in these playoffs with a goals against average of 1.83 and a .923 save percentage. What does that mean, though? Aren’t both of these goalies bounce back goaltenders? Rask is 3-0 with a 1.33 in elimination games, does that trump Binnington’s numbers?
Probably not. All of these data are kind of necessary, since goalies who play poorly for two games in a row or during elimination games have already been, you know, eliminated. Also there’s the issue of regression to consider. It’s a similar phenomenon to the Sports Illustrated cover curse, for those of you young enough to remember magazines. For a while, there was a prevailing theory that being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated was a curse, since so many athletes had much worse seasons shortly after their issues were published. What seems more likely, though (even though curses are very fun), is that these players were over performing, which is why they made the cover on the first place, and sooner or later they were more likely than not to regress to their career norms, still very good though those may have been.
To find out if Binnington’s numbers are more extreme than chance would allow, let’s look at the case of a random and hypothetical goaltender for an example, and let’s call him, I don’t know, Bordan Jinnington. Bordan has played 33 regular season NHL games, and has a save percentage of .926, and 25 playoff games with a .911, we’ll combine those data for the sake of a slightly more reasonable sample size to get 58 games and .920. Not bad! If Bordan’s save percentage from game to game is a normal distribution, 68.26 percent of his games should fall within one standard deviation of his average. In fact, of Bordan’s 58 total games played, 72.4 percent of his performances are within that range.
What does that mean? Well, in games following a playoff loss, Bordan has a .923 save percentage. Very good! However, the range of Bordan’s outcomes with a sample size as small as his is is very wide: his career save percentage of .920 across both regular season and playoff games with his paltry n of 58 boasts a standard deviation of .0604, meaning that there is a 72.4 percent chance that his true talent save percentage is anywhere between .860 and .980.
Binnington’s Jinnington’s .923 after losses is within that spectrum, meaning that every game where he performs in that range had a 72.4 percent chance of happening based on his previous performance, bounce-back-narrative be damned.
Further, if we wanted to tally how many of Jinnington’s post-loss performances were more than one deviation from his career average, it would be very easy: it’s zero. Additionally, four of his playoff losses were outside that range, meaning those were more likely to be the outliers than his “bounce-backs” were. With such a short career, players like Jinnington, and even Binnington himself, for that matter, are hard to pin down, true-talent wise, and prone to narratives like these. While this deep dive may not have given us any definitive answers (hello, welcome to my column), it sheds some light on both how we evaluate and describe goaltending, and how much regression shapes what we think are interesting story lines after they happen.
Brad Marchand: A key story line so far this series has been Boston’s top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Held largely off the board for much of this series and much of these playoffs, the Bruins big bears came to hunt on Sunday. Boasting a 5-on-5 goal, a 5-on-5 goal, and a shot attempt percentage at evens of no lower than 57 percent, the black and gold’s top trio finally showed what they were capable of and, if that is the start of a trend rather than a flash in the pan, the Blues could be in trouble. Over the course of his career, the Bruins hold a 25-1 record when Marchand scores, including 8-0 this postseason.
The whistles. I know, I know, but this time it’s different.
True to the themes of this postseason, expect officiating to play a heavy role in tonight’s game, but maybe not in the way that I’ve been whinging about for the last few threads. While the Bruins’ special team dominance has been a key story line in all three of their wins so far (tying the game with a power play goal in Game 1, scoring four goals on four shots on four power plays in Game 3, opening the scoring at 5-on-3 in Game 6), the Blues have been largely absent with the man advantage, having scored just once on 18 power play opportunities in the series so far.
Powered largely by that aforementioned Game 3 performance, Boston has cruised to a 33 percent power play efficiency rate and, while that number is probably unsustainable considering their much more reasonable (but still very good) 25.9 percent conversion rate during the regular season, Game 7 cares not for sustainability.
At evens, the ice tilts ever so slightly in the other direction. The Blues hold a 52.13 percent shot attempt share, a 52.38 percent goal share, and a 50.70 percent scoring chance share at 5-on-5 and, if big games and moments propel officials to swallow their whistles, as seems to have been the case so far (in both of these teams previous Games 7 (St. Louis against the Dallas Stars in the second round, Boston against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first) there were only two penalties called) St. Louis has to feel good about their chances of dominating even strength play.
It’s Game 7. All of this is just grist for the twitter mill, and the winner tonight takes the whole thing home. Let’s all band together and cheer for piles of goals for 60 minutes, and then four overtimes. It has to hold us over until October.