When we first wrote an opponent’s fan guide to the St. Louis Blues, it seemed unlikely that there would be occasion to write three more (you can find these other guides below). But the Blues have done the improbable and made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 years.
Boston Bruins fans likely won’t need reminding of that Stanley Cup appearance, as it ended with one of the most iconic goals in NHL history. But Bobby Orr’s flying goal is in the distant past, and this is obviously a very different St. Louis squad. For the fourth and final time, here is a guide to the Blues for fans of their opponents.
Let’s travel back to Orr’s famous goal for a moment: that was the clinching goal for the Bruins’ fourth Stanley Cup, but their first in almost thirty years. It was also the third time in as many seasons that the Blues had lost in the final rounds of the playoffs.
The team entered the league in the 1967-68 season, along with five other expansion teams. Those teams formed the Western Conference, guaranteeing that one of the six would make the Final. Each of the first three seasons, that team was the Blues, who made three straight Stanley Cup Finals only for their season to end unceremoniously shortly thereafter.
In each of three consecutive seasons, the Blues were swept in the final round, twice by the Montreal Canadiens, and then finally by the Bruins. Whether Orr’s goal was the backbreaker or not, the next 50 years of their history would be tainted by disappointment.
St. Louis has had no shortage of great players in their history. From Bobby and Barclay Plager to Brian Sutter, from Bernie Federko to Brett Hull, the team has had franchise players, many of whom reside in the city and remain a part of the Blues’ culture. But none of them ever even got the chance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It has been half a century of sadness and regret since these two teams last met in the Final, and Boston fans should not be surprised if public sentiment is on the side of their opposition. But that has never bothered the Bruins before, and it shouldn’t now. This series will be decided by the team that performs the best, not the team with the saddest history.
Five Frightening Forwards
The Bruins will have to contend with the Blues’ loaded forward core. While St. Louis may not have a line as lethal as the one formed by David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand, they do have a group of potent threats on the offensive side. Here are the five you’ll want to be most familiar with.
If the Blues win the Stanley Cup this season, Jaden Schwartz will be a top contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He currently leads the team in goals (12) and points (16), and has set a franchise record by scoring two hat tricks in these playoffs.
It’s no surprise that Tarasenko, one of the league’s elite snipers, is immediately behind Schwartz on the goals list with eight. What might be surprising, and is certainly frightening for Bruins fans, is that the Russian is only just heating up in the playoffs.
Tarasenko has a goal in each of his last two games. While one was on a penalty shot, he is still recovering his shooting form in a big way. If anything should disquiet Bruins fans in advance of this series, it might be him.
Speaking of people rounding into form, Ryan O’Reilly helped push his team into the final round with three assists in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. He is the Blues’ number one center, and will be looked at to set up goals and win critical faceoffs throughout the series.
Though Brayden Schenn broke a 14-game goalless drought with his goal in Game 6, he hasn’t been invisible in the playoffs. He’s laid the body on his opponents plenty, as he’s second on the team (behind only Oskar Sundqvist) with 55 hits.
Still, he is expected to score, and no one looked more relieved than Schenn when he found the back of the net last game. If both he and Tarasenko can heat up as scoring threats, the Bruins are in for a long series.
Last but not least, the player Bruins fans will be least familiar with: Robert Thomas. The Blues’ rookie has looked like a different player in the playoffs, and is one of the true driving forces of the team. If Boston wants to stop their opposition, they’ll need to find an answer for the questions Thomas will be asking.
Binnington vs. Rask
The biggest matchup in this series won’t be the forwards or the defense but the goaltending. Both Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington have been lights out in these playoffs, and whoever performs better in this series will likely hoist the Stanley Cup.
So far in the postseason, Rask is 12-5, with a jaw-dropping .942 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.84 goals-against average (GAA). Binnington is 12-7 with a .914 SV% and a 2.36 GAA, but he has been exceptional in the second half of series.
Goaltending is always critical in the playoffs, and these netminders have carried their teams this far. Only one can lift hockey’s greatest prize, though, and neither is going to give that up easily.
Monday Night in Boston
We will get the early answers to these questions on Monday night, when the puck drops in Boston for Game 1. We wish the best of luck to both sides, and may the best team win.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.