The St. Louis Blues are playing in their first Stanley Cup Final in 49 years, and Game 1 did not go according to plan. The Boston Bruins were significantly better than the Blues in the final 40 minutes of the game, and took the early series lead. With that being said, only one game has been played, and there are a few keys to the series that the Blues can exploit to possibly defeat the Boston Bruins for their first Stanley Cup.
Blues’ Depth Should Play a Factor as the Series Continues
Both of these teams are very good throughout their lineup, but I do not think they are the exact mirror image of each other that we are being led to believe. The Bruins are better at the top end of their lineup, with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Each one of those forwards scored at a higher points-per-game average (P/GP) than the top Blues scorer, Ryan O’Reilly, in the regular season.
However, I believe the Blues actually have a bit more depth throughout their lines. If we count late-season acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, the Bruins had nine players who scored 10 or more goals in the regular season. The Blues, on the other hand, had 13 players, additionally, the Blues had 12 players who topped 28 points, while the Bruins had only 10.
A much higher percentage of the Bruins’ offense comes from their top line than it does for the Blues. The Blues split up their two leading scorers in the regular season, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, during the playoffs, which created two distinct, strong top lines. With the emergence of the Pat Maroon – Tyler Bozak – Robert Thomas line, the Blues have a very strong third line, and the fourth line of Ivan Barbashev, Alexander Steen, and Oskar Sundqvist has been phenomenal.
If the Blues can neutralize the Bruins’ top line, then they might be able to control the offensive play against the B’s other lines. In Game 1, depth was not an advantage for the Blues as the Bruins got multiple goals from their depth players. However, I believe the play will even out as the series continues.
Colton Parayko Could Be the Difference for the Blues’ Defense
The fact that the Bruins are more top heavy might actually be more beneficial to the Blues because of Colton Parayko. I have criticized Jay Bouwmeester in the past, and I still think the Blues give him too many minutes, but his pairing with Parayko has produced results in limiting top offensive lines so far in this playoffs. All in all, when looking at regular season P/GP versus P/GP against the Blues this postseason, the Blues’ top unit has limited top offensive lines by an average of 12 percent, as shown in the below chart using data from Natural Stat Trick. If the Blues can do that to the Bruins’ top line, that would go a long way to halting the Bruins’ offense.
Parayko is just so good at limiting chances because of his reach and skating ability. It is nearly impossible to beat him on the rush. He is also very good at boxing players out from the net because of his strength. His ability to transition the puck is perhaps his best weapon, and it makes it very hard for offensive players to create much extended pressure on him. I think this series will be Parayko’s coming-out party at the national level.
Tuukka Rask Is Set to Regress
Pretty much every pundit at the moment is giving the Bruins’ the edge in goal, but I want to caution that thought. Tuukka Rask has a .940 save percentage (SV%) in the playoffs, but he had a much less impressive .912 SV% during the regular season. When it comes to the advanced stats in the regular season, Rask had a much lower Save Percentage on Unblocked Shots at .952 than Jordan Binnington at .961.
Rask’s play is unsustainable based on his history. Whether he can sustain it for one more series is a different question. However, I do not think the Bruins have yet played a team of the Blues’ caliber in this playoffs. If the Blues can get their cycle set up, as we have seen so far in this playoffs, I think they will give Rask a lot more trouble than he has had up to this point. Rask was not challenged very much in Game 1, but he did only have a .900 SV%.
All in all, I think this should be a tight series, despite what we saw in Game 1. However, I do see a distinct possibility for the Blues to win their first Stanley Cup if they exploit some of these key areas. However, it will be important for the Blues to stay out of the penalty box in order to utilize their strengths.