After a 7-2 beatdown at the hands of the Bruins on Saturday, Game 4 is as close to a must-win as it gets for the Blues. A loss would mean a 3-1 series deficit heading into Boston for Game 5, a deficit that would be very hard to overcome. A big reason they lost is Boston’s scorching powerplay, which needed just four shots and just over 2 actual minutes of powerplay to strike four times. The solution to this problem is pretty straightforward; be more disciplined.
The other area that’s been killing the Blues so far is their rush defense and that’s not as easy a fix as the powerplay problem. The Bruins have scored three times in three games in transition and they now have 20 goals off the rush in the playoffs, by far the most of any team in this year’s playoffs and twice as many as St. Louis.
The Blues were the sixth-best team at limiting rush goals against in the regular season, allowing only 47, so they clearly have the ability to shut down the transition game. One thing that has cost them on two the three Boston rush goals were their poor line changes. On Charlie McAvoy’s powerplay goal in Game 1, Tyler Bozak goes to the bench while McAvoy has the puck in the neutral zone. Now with only three men in defending position while all five Bruins were on the blueline and ready to attack, McAvoy sees a lot of space in front of him and decides to immediately skate the puck back into the offensive zone.
St. Louis was already playing down a man, but Bozak’s move makes it effectively a 5-on-3. Not surprisingly, this goes south quickly for St. Louis and McAvoy scores the game-tying goal en route to a Bruins win.
Bad changes cost them once again in Game 3. At that point, the game was still under control, as Boston had a 1-0 lead. On that sequence, Boston gets the puck in their own zone and start pushing it up the ice. The first mistake by the Blues comes when Sammy Blais goes in aggressively for the contact with Charlie Coyle and whiffs, putting him completely out of position.
At this point, there are three Bruins attacking with speed and two Blues defenseman back, with Patrick Marron being the closest forward to the play, but Maroon goes for a change. The player jumping on the ice is too far back to have any impact, leaving only Ryan O’Reilly with a chance to get back on defense, but it’s too little too late for the Selke candidate. Boston finds the space to make a couple of passes and Charlie Coyle rifles one past the glove of Jordan Binnington.
The Blues have won 61% of their playoff games when they win the rush chance battle and that trend holds up in this series. They won the rush battle 8-4 in their Game 2 win and Boston had the edge in their two victories. The Bruins are a fast team, so trying to match them probably isn’t the best idea. Instead, the Blues should try and slow down the pace of the game, which would suit their strength: the cycle game.