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Five story lines to watch during the Stanley Cup Final

By Andy Eide

Bobby Orr’s legendary flying goal celebration has been played a lot over the last week as the Boston Bruins get set to take on the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Orr’s goal came against the Blues but to call this year’s Final a rematch is a stretch.

The Blues lost to the Bruins, on Orr’s famous goal, in Game 4 of the 1970 Final and while technically a rematch, none of the players in today’s version were born when Orr took his leap. Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t see some memorable moments unfold over the next couple of weeks.

Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr flies through the air after winning the 1970 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues.

This year’s Final is still a blank page to be filled, starting Monday night with Game 1 in Boston. We don’t yet know the outcomes, or the story lines that will ultimately determine the winner, but here are five to watch for as the game’s get going.

Get the whirlpools ready, this is going to be physical

The NHL is loaded with perhaps more skill and speed, league-wide, than at any other time in its history. Both St. Louis and Boston have players with skill, players like Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues and David Pastrnak for the Bruins. Despite some high skill, these teams are both physical. They’re going to hit. They’re going to hit each other a lot.

Hitting was a big part of the Blues win over San Jose in the Conference Finals and they wore down the Sharks as the series progressed. Boston is no stranger to physical play either and this series will be a tough one. The Blues out-hit San Jose in four of the six games in their series and look to throw the body a bit more than Boston does. Boston has only out-hit its opponent in three of the 17 games that it has played so far this post season while St. Louis has done so in 10 of its games. Don’t let that fool you however, the Bruins are more than willing to get into a physical game and have shown they can survive such a series.

Time and space will be limited and which ever team can fight through and grind it out better may end up on top.

Will Boston be rusty?

By sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Finals, the Bruins haven’t played a game in 11 days. Will that affect them? More directly, how will the lay off affect goalie Tukka Rask?

Rask has been brilliant in these playoffs and is a top candidate to win the Conn Smythe award when its all said and done. In 17 games this post season he has a 1.84 goals-against along with an incredible .942 save-percentage. It gets better when you consider his five-on-five, high-danger save percentage is a league-best .918.

Those are lofty numbers and Rask might be due for some sort of regression, regardless of any time off. He’s also been here before, as have several of his Boston teammates. The Bruins have a combined 68 games of Stanley Cup Final’s experienced on their roster, compared to just 10 games for the Blues.

The playoffs are games of attrition and are often of the grueling variety. Boston has played 17 games so far while the Blues took 19 contests to get to the Final. Recent trends suggest that this may actually help the Blues. Of the last five Stanley Cup Champions, only one – the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks – had played fewer games than their Final opponent had.

Whether its rust, or just a fluke, the trend here favors St. Louis.

Can Jordan Binnington handle the pressure?

The Blues’ rookie netminder has been a big story since taking over the St. Louis net midway through the season. He’s as big a reason as any for the Blues’ epic turnaround.

Binnington has been good in the playoffs as well. He’s played all 19 games for the Blues and comes into the Final with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .914 save-percentage. Binnington is also the first rookie goalie in 32 years to pick up the first 12 playoff wins for his club. He’s just the fifth rookie to do so and he has a chance to become the first in league history to notch 16 playoff wins in one post season.

St Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington has turned in a spectacular rookie season. (NHL)

In the first round of the playoffs, the Winnipeg Jets fans tried to rattle the rookie with chants of ‘you look nervous’, but that backfired. Binnington has been poised throughout the post season and has won a double-overtime Game 7 against Dallas, shaken off the now infamous hand pass-goal against San Jose and has steered the Blues to within four wins of their first Cup. It doesn’t seem likely that the bright lights of the Final are going to deter him.

Do the Blues have an answer for Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak?

The Boston Bruins have one of the top lines in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron (8g-5a-13p), Brad Marchand (7g-11a-18p) and David Pastrnak (7g-8a-15p) have combined to score 22 of Boston’s 57 playoff goals. That’s more than 38-percent of the Bruins goals so far in the post season.

The three have been consistent and are coming off a series against Carolina that saw them dominate puck possession. In that four-game sweep, according to Natural Stat Trick, they had an even-strength Corsi percentage (a number that indicates the percentage of shots at the goal the Bruins had while the Bergeron line was on the ice) of 60.87. Against all other teams, that number was still high, at 58.5-percent.

Can the Blues match that line, or at least slow it down? Guys like Tarasenko, Jaden Scwartz and Ryan O’Reilly will have to keep their offensive production going in order to do so. On the blue line, don’t be surprised if Blues coach Craig Berube tries to get Colton Parayko out against the Bergeron line as much as possible. Parayko, along with Jay Bouwmester, spent a lot of time chasing San Jose’s Logan Couture around in the Conference Finals and were able to contain him.

Who’s special teams will be the most special?

When it comes to a best-of-seven series, special teams always seem to be a factor. Boston comes in with an NHL best 17 power-play goals and a 34-percent conversion rate with the man advantage. The power play is a unit that relies on rhythm so it will be interesting to see if the 11-day lay off will sap some of Boston’s power-play mojo.

The Blues penalty kill is coming off a strong showing in the series with the Sharks, where they held San Jose to just 2-for-13 on the power play.

Overall the Bruins have the edge on special teams, at least statistically speaking. To go with their successful power-play, the Bruins have killed off 86-percent of the power-plays against. St. Louis’ power play has only converted on 19.4-percent of its chances while killing off penalties at a 78-percent clip. The Blues will need to continue their killing trend that they established against the Sharks, and play with discipline, to limit the number of Boston looks.

andreweide
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