The St. Louis Blues forfeited a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup on home ice by losing 5-1 in Game 6 to the Boston Bruins. The game was closer than the score indicates, as the two teams were neck and neck before an early third period goal by Brandon Carlo rocked the Blues’ confidence.
Entering the final game of the NHL season, it is now or never for the Blues to win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 52-year history. If they are going to do that, they will need to focus on these there keys to victory.
1) Fix the Power Play
To say the Blues’ power play has been a disaster in the Stanley Cup Final would be far too kind. It has been invisible, scoring just one goal in 18 opportunities across the six games. Not only is it the team’s biggest weakness right now, it is by far the biggest concern for interim (and eventual permanent) head coach Craig Berube going forward.
Though the Blues have won three games so far in the series in which they have not scored a power play goal, it goes without saying that Game 7 would be a critical time to get the special teams humming. A goal or two with the man advantage would be huge for St. Louis, and could be the difference between agony and ecstasy.
2) Jaden Schwartz’s Renaissance
Entering the final round, Jaden Schwartz was seen as the frontrunner among Blues’ players for the Conn Smythe Trophy. He had 12 goals and four assists entering the series, including two games in which he scored a hat trick.
Since then, he’s been almost silent. He scored an assist in each of the first two games of the series, and has gone pointless since then, registering as an even plus-minus in that same stretch.
Schwartz joins Tyler Bozak, Oskar Sundqvist, and Patrick Maroon as some of the critical players who have not scored a goal yet in this series. Fortunately, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko have picked up the slack so far, but Game 7 may be a different story.
To beat Tuukka Rask, who has been incredible this postseason, Game 7 will need to be an “all hands on deck” situation. Schwartz and his goalless teammates will need to produce if the Blues want a parade later this week.
3) Jordan Binnington Needs to Bounce Back
Rookie goaltender and Calder Trophy finalist Jordan Binnington was extraordinary in Game 5, and was the most significant factor in his team’s victory. Most of the way through Game 6 he was fine, allowing just one goal on 20 shots through the first two periods, and that with his team at a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
After Carlo scored on an unpredictable bouncing shot, Binnington seemed to scuffle a little bit, allowing two more goals before the end of the game (with the fifth coming on an empty net). He will need to bounce back in a huge way to give his team a chance in the final game of the series.
Fortunately for the Blues, bouncing back is something of a specialty for Binnington. He has been remarkable after losses and in late games in a series. He will need to continue both those patterns to bring his team a Stanley Cup.
If he does, Binnington will stand an outside chance to be the first player to win both the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Calder Memorial Trophy in the same season. Though Montreal Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden did both, he was such a fresh goaltender when he won the Stanley Cup in 1971 that he would not be eligible for the Calder Trophy until the following season. Of course, he has strong competition for both the Calder and the Conn Smythe.
Whether he wins the hardware or not, Binnington’s is an incredible story. One more win will give him the most postseason wins for any rookie goaltender ever. More importantly, it will give the Blues their very first Stanley Cup.
Shipping Up to Boston
Win or lose on Wednesday night, the Blues are in rarefied air. Though the Bruins have played in and won more Game 7s than any other team, they have never hosted a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. Though these final games tend to favor the home team (who are 11-5 in SCF Game 7s), the road team has won the last two such contests, most recently the Bruins themselves in Vancouver in 2011.
The Blues will need to overcome adversity and continue that away winning streak if they want to bring the Stanley Cup home. Fortunately, overcoming adversity has become old hat for them. It’s now or never for both teams, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. What could make a hockey fan happier?
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.