May 4, 2019; Boston, MA; Fans react after a Boston Bruins goal. Credit: Brian Fluharty-Inside Hockey

2019 Stanley Cup Final Preview

Boston- May 10, 1970, is a blessed day in Boston sports memory. On that Mother’s Day at Boston Garden, Bobby Orr took a pass from Derek Sanderson and slipped the puck through the legendary Glenn Hall’s pads to win the Bruins’ first Stanley Cup in 29 years. As the puck went through, St. Louis Blues defenseman Noel Picard got his stick in Orr’s skates, tripping him up and sending him into the air for one of hockey’s finest moments of accomplishment.
Forty-nine years later, that play still resonates in both fanbases. Boston, a regularly competitive franchise with two more sections of the Cup acknowledging Bruin glory since 1970, looks to it as a proud moment. St. Louis, a competitive but painfully lacking franchise, looks to it as a moment defining the Blues’ reputation of being close but not close enough.

Both teams appeared to hold to their historic trends for much of the season. Boston offered signs of cup contention all season. A veteran core with names already on the Cup aided by intelligently handled youthful injections lifted Boston to the second-best record in the NHL. A seven-game war against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs opened the postseason. A surprising opponent, Columbus, came next and a six-game battle ensued. Carolina was the last opponent on the road and they fell surprisingly easily in a clean sweep. The B’s were rewarded with eleven days between claiming the Prince of Wales Trophy and starting the Stanley Cup Final.

Meanwhile, St. Louis entered the year after overhauling their roster and drawing high expectations before stumbling into last place on January 3rd. Head coach Mike Yeo was fired for Craig Berube, Jordan Binnington took over in net, and the Blues have been the best team in the league since being in last place. Preseason favorite Winnipeg was cut down to size in round one. Ben Bishop lifted the Dallas Stars to a double-overtime chance to beat the Blues. Alas, Binnington helped his cause for a pay raise and the Blues survived behind hometown hero Patrick Maroon’s series winner in Game Seven. Finally, St. Louis outed an injury-riddled San Jose Sharks, the team that beat the Blues on their last Conference Final run in 2016, to claim the Clarence Campbell Bowl to make the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup Final.

Starting on Monday, these two teams will battle for the greatest trophy in sports. How do they stack up on the ice?

The Blues are powered by Iron Man Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly has played in all 82 regular and 19 postseason games. He’s the only player on either team to have done so. The 6’-1” center led the Blues with 77 points (28G 49A) during the regular season. O’Reilly hasn’t missed a beat in this run to the Finals, totaling 14 points (3G 11A). But it’s not just his offensive prowess that has gotten the Blues this far, he’s a solid two-way player. A finalist for the Selke Trophy for the league’s best defensive forward, O’Reilly prides himself on his defense. It will be a great match-up between him and the Bruins Patrice Bergeron, also a Selke finalist. Two face-off specialists going head to head will determine how a good amount of this series plays out. O’Reilly has given Bergeron fits in the past.
Vladimir Tarasenko is the most renown Blues player. His skill level is off the charts, he scores almost at will and from anywhere on the ice. The seven-year veteran was the Blues best scorer this year with 33 goals and is second in the postseason with eight. Leading the Blues in goals and points in this Stanley Cup run has been Jaden Schwartz with 12 goals and 4 assists. The former Colorado College Tiger has two hat-tricks this postseason.

Alex Pietrangelo has been providing for the Blues as Captain since David Backes left for Boston in 2016. The King City, Ontario native has 2 goals and 11 assists in the playoffs thus far, good for third on the Blues. He’ll anchor the blueline with Jay Bouwmeester, the 16-year veteran who is appearing in his first Stanley Cup Finals after 1,184 career games. The Blues defense is old school, big, strong, and heavy. All eight stand 6’-0” or more. Colton Parayko is 6’-6” and willing to knock anyone into next week.

In goal, rookie Jordan Binnington has been one of the stories of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After spending last year on loan to Boston’s farm team in Providence, the third round pick in the 2011 draft was called up to St. Louis on January 5th. The 25-year-old goalie went 24-5-1 to close out the Blues incredible turnaround in the regular season. In the playoffs Binnington is 12-7, he’s struggled at times but has kept the Blues in pretty much every game. His play will determine the Blues fate. Another round of impressive play will earn not only the first Cup in St. Louis’ tortured history, but likely the Conn Smythe Award for the Richmond Hill, Ontario, native. He would be the second Blue to win the award, first since Glenn Hall in a losing effort in 1968, the first of three straight SCF runs in the first ever season of Blues hockey.

The Bruins meanwhile are led by Brad Marchand and his 18 postseason points. Marchand continues to produce in big moments, as he has since his rookie year campaign in 2011. The 5’-9” winger has kept his penalty minutes down, 10 minutes in 17 games, while probably goading opposing players into twice as many. Which is where the Bruins have dominated this postseason. Boston is 17 for 50 on the man advantage for a playoff-leading 34%. Marchand leads all players with eight power play assists, while linemate Bergeron leads all with six power-play goals.

Charlie Coyle has come alive for the Bruins since the playoffs started back in April. The trade deadline acquisition responded to playing for his hometown team. Coyle has six goals and six assists in this 17 game stretch.

Tuukka Rask has been phenomenal all postseason. After splitting the backstop duties with Jaroslav Halak this year, the Finn has seemingly benefitted from not having to shoulder the load until now. Rask is leading all goalies in Goals Against Average, allowing 1.84 a game. His .942 Save Percentage is also tops. This is his best he’s looked as a Bruin. He stands as the most likely Boston Conn Smythe winner in the event of another banner hanging from the TD Garden rafters.

The Bruins have benefitted from 19 different goal scorers. St. Louis has from 18 players. Each team is similar in style of play, as well as having the knack for timely goals from unlikely sources. Be it Matt Grzelcyk or Steve Kampfer for Boston or Vince Dunn and Robert Thomas for the Blues. Each has progressed this far, four wins away from the Cup, by believing in each other, giving up their bodies to block shots, or digging deeper than the other team when trailing in their respective series. Both squads are playing great on the road, St.Louis is 7-2 while Boston is 6-2. On home ice the Bruins are 6-3 and the Blues went 5-5.

In a year defined by scoring increases, the finalists are defensive minded, physical, and deep teams. Both have loud crowds, great stories, and legitimate chances to win. Puck drop for Game 1 is at 8 pm ET at TD Garden, in Boston.