May 31, 2019 | 10:34AM ET
By Shawn Hutcheon, The Fourth Period
START TO FINAL INDICATOR OF WHERE CUP MAY HEAD
Brayden Schenn, centre
BOSTON, MA – The first two games of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final have been played with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues splitting the games in Boston ensuring at least a five-game series with Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis and Game 5 in Boston.
While a handful of observers think that Boston will need just those five games to win its seventh Stanley Cup in franchise history, most people are under the impression all seven games will be played before a champion is decided.
Since I have not been able to find Nostradamus’ predictions on the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, there is no way of knowing whose prediction will be correct, however, there may be some indications – even after just two games – as to how this series may play out.
The first indicator may be that while Boston won Game 1 (4-2), Coach Bruce Cassidy’s club did not play well in the first period of that contest. Yes, the Bruins were returning to action after an 11 day layoff and it was expected that they would exhibit some rust, which they did in giving up the game’s first two goals before taking control in periods two and three, but after the game, Cassidy said his team would need to start on time in Game 2 and play their game for the full 60 minutes in order to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
On the morning of Game 2, Boston’s players appeared confident. Only David Backes and Tuukka Rask skated in an optional morning skate with the players who would be scratched from the lineup that night. That is not out of the ordinary at this point in the season but 30 minutes later when it was time for the Blues to practice, the entire team was on the frozen sheet going through a high-paced workout overseen by coach Craig Berube.
That high-paced practiced carried over to game-time and St. Louis was the better team from start to finish. Although, Boston scored the game’s first goal, they would end the first period in a 2-2 tie and from the start of the second period to St. Louis defenseman Carl Gunnarsson’s overtime game-winning goal (an OT goal scored in Boston by a player wearing number four in a Stanley Cup Final between these two teams, where have I heard that before), the Blues were the better club and in the overtime, they were the much-better club by allowing the Bruins to get the puck out of their zone for only 45 seconds of an overtime that last 3:51.
Truth be told, when you dissect the first two games of the Final, St. Louis has been the better team for four of the six total periods of hockey.
“We need to be better, period,” Cassidy before the Bruins departed for St. Louis. “We got to be better in front of them (St. Louis) in terms of winning more pucks, get out of our end, spend less time there, attack better.”
A second indicator is the lack of point production by the line of Boston’s David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The top trio in the NHL has accounted for one goal in the two games and it was an unassisted empty-net marker scored by Marchand with 1:49 remaining in Game 1. Pastrnak registered one assist on Charlie Coyle’s first period goal in the second contest of the series.
Now, the headlines and the radio talk shows in Boston have gone totally negative on the Bergeron line primarily saying that it has not shown up yet giving the connotation that none of those players are putting in any type of effort.
This is blatantly false.
Pastrnak has put six shots on goal on seven attempts. Bergeron has six shots on eight attempts. Marchand also has six shots on twelve opportunities.
That is not a line that has not shown up.
That is a line that is getting scoring bids and has not converted at the pace most are accustomed to and credit should be given where credit is due and that is to the Blues who have defended against Bergeron and his mates extremely well. St. Louis is checking the trio, taking away passing lanes in all three zones of the ice and more importantly, taking away shooting lanes. The Blues coaching staff came into the series with a plan on how to stop Boston’s big three and so far, that plan has been implemented expertly by the Blues’ players.
Having said that, it has taken the first two games of past series for the Bergeron line to heat up and it should be expected that this talented trio will do it again beginning in Game 3.
However, if the Blues remain successful in defending Bergeron and his linemates in St. Louis, it will spell all kinds of trouble for the Bruins the rest of the way.
“I think we obviously have to respond from (Game 2),” Bergeron replied when asked what his line will do differently in the near-future. “It's always about what's in front of you. Whatever is behind is in the past. You have no control over it. I think when a game like that happens, you look at what you can improve, get better, and go back to what you know is successful for your team and you, individually. That's all. You just have to go out there and play your style, just worry about what we can really control.
“I think executing a little better in our zone. I think it starts there. I think we have to play a little bit more our way, our style.”
While playing better will be a challenge against St. Louis, the biggest challenge for Boston for the remainder of the series could be stopping the Blues top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.
St. Louis has scored five total goals in the first two games and Schenn’s line has accounted for three of those lamp-lighters.
Schwartz has garnered two assists. Schenn has one goal and one assist and Tarasenko has contributed two goals.
The line was easily St. Louis’ best in Game 1. It used speed and physicality to create time and space which gave them opportunities to make plays and score goals off the sticks of Tarasenko and Schenn. Schwartz assisted on one marker while Schenn added assist.
Tarasenko added his second goal of the series in Game 2 assisted by Schwartz for the trio’s only offensive production of the night although they had their share of chances as Schenn produced three shots on goal on four attempts, Schwartz contributed five shots on seven attempts and Tarasenko unleashed four shots on eight attempts. In total, Schenn’s group ended the night with 12 shots on 19 attempts. Give this line this type of offensive freedom and they will continue to show up on the scoresheet.
Add the possible loss of speedy defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to a concussion, the task of slowing down the Blues’ most dangerous line combination will not get any easier for the Bruins’ defense.
“I think he's got obviously a great shot,” Bergeron answered when asked about Tarasenko’s effectiveness. “They're making plays, playing well as a line. He uses his speed well. He finds ways to get away from coverage, to get open, finds ways to get that puck. Once he does have it, it doesn't stay long on his stick.”
There is no question Boston will need to be better, much better for the next two games in St. Louis. They finished third overall in the NHL regular season standings and have battled their way into the Stanley Cup Final and it is expected of them. The same can be said for the Bergeron line and for the club’s defensive play against the Schenn line.
There remains a long road to the Stanley Cup, but the Bruins will need to play their best hockey of the season offensively and defensively for the Cup’s final destination to be Boston.