The Boston Bruins are out.
Despite being pretty heavily favored to raise the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night, it was the St. Louis Blues who lifted Lord Stanley after prevailing with a dominant 4-1 victory in the winner-takes-all Game 7 in Boston. For the Blues, it’s their first title in franchise history. For the Bruins, it’s the second time in six years that they’ve watched an opponent lift the Cup in their building.
So, where did things go wrong for the Bruins in their quest for a seventh Cup? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the Blues will be getting their names etched on the trophy instead.
Lack of production from Boston’s top six
Through the first five games of this series, St. Louis did a great job of matching and outplaying the Bruins’ top players at 5-on-5. They were suffocating defensively and the Bruins’ top six wasn’t able to get much done. The only even-strength goal from those top two lines in Games 1-5 came when Jake DeBrusk scored late in Game 5.
Things looked like they might be starting to turn around in Game 6 when Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak finally found some production and a possible breakthrough. The second line also had its best game of the series in that game.
However, the Blues managed to once again leave those top players frustrated with their defensive pressure and structure in the do-or-die Game 7, and some unforced errors also proved to be costly. A terrible line change from Marchand in Game 7 led to the Blues’ second goal in the opening period. Pastrnak whiffed on a handful of great opportunities. It all looked like a mess again.
Credit goes to the Blues’ defensive efforts for being incredibly effective at limiting the Bruins in the early going, as that was the primary reason why they were able to push Boston to the brink, then — at the end — the biggest reason they were able to seal the deal.
Ryan O’Reilly’s revival
Ryan O’Reilly didn’t have a great first three rounds, at least relative to what we expect from the Blues’ center. But he saved his best for last and was the Blues’ best forward in the Stanley Cup Final, racking up nine points (five goals and four assists) over the course of the seven-game series. That resulted in O’Reilly winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
He was especially strong down the home stretch, with all of those five goals coming in Games 4-7 — including the opening goal of Game 7 to give the Blues a lead in a period where they were getting dominated. He became the first since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 to score in four straight Final games. Pretty good company!
O’Reilly is one of the Blues’ most important two-way players, as not only was he the team’s leading scorer during the regular season, but he’s also up for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward this year. O’Reilly also led the Blues in 5-on-5 shot share (57 percent) and had a 78 percent goal share (seven goals for, two against).
Jordan Binnington in Game 7
The Bruins had the better goaltender in this series, but the Blues had the better goaltender in Game 7. Jordan Binnington was incredible in the finale, especially in the first period.
In that opening frame, the rookie netminder made several difficult stops to keep Boston fruitless during an onslaught that lasted nearly the entire first 20 minutes. Had he allowed even one of those opportunities past him, it may have been a completely different game. On the other end, Tuukka Rask couldn’t quite match his opposition and the Blues managed to score twice on four shots in what was a demoralizing first period.
Binnington also made an absurd pad save to rob Joakim Nordstrom and deny the Bruins a sign of life in the third period. At that point, the game felt like it was over. The Bruins could get nothing.
It was another case of Binnington bouncing back well after a tough performance (he looked rather pedestrian in a Game 6 loss in St. Louis) and he was the single biggest reason the Blues were able to jump out to an early lead in Game 7.
The Blues’ fourth line
St. Louis’ depth was a major part of the reason they were able to clinch the Western Conference. Their third line was possibly their best in the second round, while their fourth line was possibly at their best in the Western Conference final.
While that third line was pretty thoroughly outplayed for most of the Cup Final, the fourth line of Oskar Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev and Alex Steen was really excellent once again. That unit was often impressively physical and quick on the puck, suffocating Boston’s offensive attack and driving play the other way. It didn’t contribute much offensively, but its impact was felt in how little it gave up.
It should also be noted that both Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev were forced to miss one game apiece while they served suspensions as the Blues lost both of those games. In the games where one of those guys was out of the lineup, the Bruins scored 12 goals. In the other five games combined, the Bruins had 10 combined. Maybe not a coincidence.
Three goals at even-strength all series. Simply not anywhere close to good enough.