The relentless Blues will play tonight in the franchise’s 1st ever Stanley Cup clinching opportunity thanks to a 2-1 victory on Thursday night. You can read a detailed review of the game here.
In Game 6, the Blues survived the 1st period, were at least even on special teams, won the goaltending battle, and won the close game. With the win, the Blues will have their first ever Stanley Cup clinching game. The Blues are 3-0 in clinching games this post-season while the Bruins are 1-0 in games facing elimination. Someone’s perfect record will be ruined tonight.
Let’s review how the Blues got to this point in the series. Looking back at the first five games, the Blues have done pretty well relative to Jammer’s keys to the series. The Blues have been tied or up a goal after each 1st period in four of the five games, winning three of those four. The Bruins power play has been held to a 13.3% conversion rate in four of the five games with Game 3 being the outlier when the Bruins were a perfect four for four. Early in the series the Blues were averaging five short-handed chances a game but in the last two games that has fallen by almost half.
Tuukka Rask has posted a better save percentage than Jordan Binnington in three of the five games but Rask’s save percentage has regressed to 91.7%, down from 94.2% in the 1st three rounds while Binnington’s has only fallen to 90.8% from 91.4%. . Before the series started, I said the Blues needed Rask’s percentage to regress to around 91%. If Rask regresses all the way down to 91%, expect the Blues to be hoisting the Cup over their heads tonight.
Binnington has been comparable to Rask in the series, within a percentage point of Rask’s save percentage. BInnington continues to own Games 5 through 7, posting a 95.4% save percentage in those games, helping the Blues go 7-1 in those games.
The Bruins have had success on the power play, barely lowering their success rate from 34% in the first three rounds to 31.5% in this series but that is misleading. Two thirds of their power play goals came in the same game. In the other four games, the Bruins are only converting at a rate of 13.3%, well below their season and playoff averages. The Blues power play has struggled but if you ignore Game three, the Blues have kept the special teams goals close.
The Blues have excelled in winning close games during the series. If you adjust for empty net goals, the Blues are 3-1 in adjusted one goal games. As a result, I’m not surprised the Blues are up 3-2.
The Bruins top players have been held mostly in check. Patrice Bergeron has one even strength point, Brad Marchand has one even strength non-empty net point, and David Pastrnak has no even strength points. Even with the empty net goal pluses, the trio is -11 in the series. Compare that to Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Brayden Schenn who have 12 even strength points and 8 goals while being a combined +5.
If the Blues can continue to regress Rask’s save percentage down to 91%, I expect they will find success tonight. If the Blues can stay out of the penalty box, they should fare well tonight as they have outscored the Bruins 11-7 at even strength. This becomes even more important given the one game suspension of Ivan Barbashev for his hit on Marcus Johansson.
St. Louis’ Ivan Barbashev has been suspended for one game for an Illegal Check to the Head on Boston’s Marcus Johansson. https://t.co/CVEqVANQ7a
Luckily for the Blues, Robert Thomas is healthy enough to go tonight and will replace Barbashev. Thomas will likely slide back in with Pat Maroon and Tyler Bozak with Sammy Blais sliding down to the wing on the fourth line.
The Bruins will only go with six defensemen tonight. Matt Grzlecyk still is in concussion protocol. Karson Kuhlman is in which likely means that David Backes will again be out.
The Blues will need to keep playing relentless hockey as this victory will be the hardest yet to earn. The Arkells are a Canadian band that you may have seen written about by the Althletic and others as they have a tie to former Blues such as Scottie Upshall and current Blues like Ryan O’reilly. On their most recent album “Rally Cry”, they have a song titled “Relentless” and the lyrics strike a familiar tone.
“We are all kids from a neighborhood” just like the diverse collection of Blues fans that fill the Enterprise Center, uniting from south county, north county, west county, south city, downtown, the central west end, downstate Illinois and even the Netherlands.
“I fall asleep with the radio on” just like how many of us fell asleep well past our bedtime as kids listening to Dan Kelly calling the late game on KMOX.
“And you watch this thing grow” like so many us watching the Blues grow in 2019, watching the fans’ and city’s excitement and energy grow.
“We got gas in the tank to go all night.” This Blues team wears opponents down, getting better the longer the series goes. They make it hard for opponents to play, hard for them to keep up the compete level needed to play winning hockey, trying to break them and their spirt.
“We don’t walk through it alone.” The fans, businesses and metro area cities have immersed themselves with the Blues on this joyous ride. The team is playing for each other, dedicated to do what is necessary to end the drought and break through the Stanley Cup door for the first time.
“Mix some blood, sweat, and tears of joy” and “he said the past was complicated, both mourned and celebrated” – The team, the players and the fans have shed blood, sweat and tears over the years through trials and tribulations with plenty of memorable moments along the way (Yzerman beats Casey, Wickenheiser in double OT, Ron Schock in OT, Owen Nolan from center ice, Belfour going ballistic, Backes crying after elimination, etc.). If the Blues win today, the tears of joy will burst the levee built by years of Blues disappointment, heartache, and failure, flooding the town with joy and happiness, the likes of which it has never seen.
As the song says, “it’s time to get to work, now let’s get goin’” and keep playing relentless hockey.
Hear it here:
It’s a great day for hockey.
NHL Champions for Charity Playoff Edition
In what I hope becomes a Hockeybuzz tradition, Bruins Hockeybuzz writer Anthony Travalgia and I placed a wager on the series. If the Blues win, Anthony has agreed to make a donation to the Gateway Area Multiple Sclerosis Society (@mssociety on twitter) whose mission is help each person affected by MS in St. Louis address the challenges of living with MS. They help by raising funds for cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education and providing programs and services that empower people with MS and their families to move their lives forward. I picked this charity to honor Blues anthem singer, Charles Glenn. Read more about Charles’ battle with MS here. If the Bruins win, I will donate to the JDRF (@JDRF on twitter) whose mission is improve lives today and tomorrow by accelerating life-changing breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat T1D and its complications.
Sharks Hockeybuzz writer Steve Palumbo and I placed a wager on the series. Since the Blues won, Steve should be making a donation to the Gateway Area Multiple Sclerosis Society (@mssociety on twitter) whose mission is help each person affected by MS in St. Louis address the challenges of living with MS. They help by raising funds for cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education and providing programs and services that empower people with MS and their families to move their lives forward. I selected the MS Society to honor St. Louis Blues Anthem singer Charles Glenn. Read more about Charles here.
I hope that our wagers will inspire players and fans to pledge donations for each win their team makes in the NHL playoffs.
NHL Champions for Charity Regular Season
Given that the Predators pulled out the division title, all be it not without some controversial officiating in the last couple of games, Best Buddies Tennessee https://www.bestbuddies.org/tennessee/ is the beneficiary. Best Buddies Tennessee is dedicated to establishing a volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development and inclusive living opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a side note, I recently got to experience a Best Buddies even in the St. Louis area that was led by the Eureka high school football team. It was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to those involved.