Did anyone expect the 102nd Stanley Cup Final to be between what was then the last place team in the National Hockey League in early January and a second fiddle team in the Atlantic Division all season? Probably not, but it makes for a great story. The St. Louis Blues won their three previous series in a minimum of six games at least and went toe-to-toe with their rivals the Dallas Stars in probably the most physical and exhausting play before winning in double overtime. The Boston Bruins slugged it out with their Original Six rival Toronto Maple Leafs before cruising past the Columbus Blue Jackets and sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes. With the adversity, constant questioning and celebrations between both these two winning their conferences, what should we expect in the Championship Series?
#3 Boston Bruins v. #4 St. Louis Blues
These teams played only twice during the regular season; one game was a blowout and the other ended in a shootout. Suffice to say, anything could happen. This much is certain: the series will come down to which goaltender blinks first. Jordan Binnington doesn’t look like a rookie at all as he’s helped the Blues rack up wins on the road under his constant focus and poise. Jaden Schwartz has stayed consistent in every round and could win the Conn Smythe (awarded to the most valuable player in the Finals and playoffs) Trophy if the Blues win the Cup.
The Bruins have a veteran net-minder in Tuukka Rask, who has given Boston a number three ranking in GA (goals against), made sure Boston had a cushion in two elimination games against Toronto and slammed the door shut on any chance Columbus and Carolina had on advancing to the Finals. While many have criticized Rask for past playoff performances, he’s made sure the Bruins get to the Finals twice during his tenure. While Zdeno Chara has been injured, the depth the Bruins have has again shown up and their top players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have gotten better as their postseason stretches on.
What to watch for: Outside of which goaltender will win the stare-down, this matchup will resemble what most saw in the Dallas-St. Louis series: physicality, great coverage against offensive threats and for both teams to show off how deep their rosters are. While Dallas was a fantastic defensive team, Boston seemed more evenly balanced on both sides but made sure they could hit their opponents hard enough to knock them out of rhythm, something that frustrated the Maple Leafs and snuffed out Columbus. This could be hard to implement as St. Louis did the same thing to San Jose last round and pushed back hard against both Winnipeg and Dallas. One thing Dallas captain Jamie Benn did which helped Dallas take a game in St. Louis was to give his team an even four-on-four by snuffing out star player Vladimir Tarasenko. Dallas overwhelmed St. Louis and they scored three goals in the first period. Expect Boston to use a tactic like this if they get behind early.
Prediction: This may be the hardest prediction since the second round. Look for both teams to split the first four games, as that should give some clarity on how both will play each other. Both these teams want it badly, but St. Louis has the more meaningful chance since they haven’t been to the Cup Finals in decades and they’ve lost the times they went before. These Blues look more focused than previous years and they look to have shaken off those awful memories earlier in the decade. Blues win the 102nd Stanley Cup Finals 4-2 with Jaden Schwartz winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Conference Finals Prediction Record: 1-1