This Stanley Cup Final has given us everything through six games. We’ve had controversy, suspensions, injuries, and highlight-reel plays but when the final horn sounds at the end of Wednesday’s Game 7, we will have a champion. So, will the Boston Bruins win their second cup of the 2010s, or will the St. Louis Blues claim their first title in franchise history? Here are some of the key areas you should watch out for tonight for each team. They could very well make the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
The Bruins have been the more consistent team so far in the Final. Win or lose, they put up very similar performances at 5v5, even improving on their numbers a little in losses, which makes sense since they can’t afford to go in shutdown mode when they’re trailing. The statistic that grabbed my attention the most, however, was the rush chances.
When broken down by game, a clear trend emerges. In all of their wins, the Bruins got a) at least five rush chances and b) more than St. Louis. In their three losses, the opposite happens. They get fewer than five chances in transition and are out-chanced by the Blues off the rush. So watch out for the Bruins’ speed game, it has been a difference maker through six games and could easily be again in Game 7.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues have been the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of this series. They’re capable of the best or the worst on any given night. They can hold on and win in overtime or get blown out 7-2. In fact, their three wins have come in either one or two-goal games, while their losses have been by 2, 5, and 4 goals, respectively. Their performance in wins is night and day when compared to their play in losses. They average more than triple the slot shots and roughly an extra expected goal per game at 5v5 when they win.
The key for the Blues is their cycle game and their ability to get right in Tuukka Rask’s face. In wins, they get nearly twice as many shots from the inner slot and recover significantly more rebounds, as well as about one extra minute of offensive zone time. They’ve had success getting into point-blank range and capitalizing off rebounds, with Ryan O’Reilly alone scoring on three separate occasions, including his team’s only goal in Game 6, which barely crossed the goal line.
The more they have the puck in Boston’s zone, the more they tire out the Bruins players and that in turns limits their effectiveness off the rush. Simply hanging around the perimeter won’t be enough though, so St. Louis needs to control the puck and get to the middle of the ice early and often to make sure Tuukka Rask has to work for every save.
It may sound cliché, but whichever team is able to impose their style on the other is likely to emerge with the Cup on Wednesday night. Will the Blues cycle break Boston’s defense and Rask’s hot play, or will Boston’s speed finally prove too much to handle for the St. Louis?