Tonight is the fifth game of the NHL Stanley Cup Final. Both combatants are tied at two games a piece. To this point we have had a fairly even series. With both teams holding a blowout victory and two close games. Which would already make game five a pinnacle moment in the series, but it lays deeper than that.
With the series becoming a best of three both teams are looking to play their best hockey to date in the series. The list of problems is long and wide for both teams and need to be addressed.
So let’s start with Boston.
Zdeno Chara is out. Like done, probably done for life. He suffered a broken jaw in game four. Before the series he was nursing a list of other injuries. He has looked slow and un effective for the majority of the series. So one may think this is an addition by subtraction for Boston? Unfortunately they won’t have a “give me” game to figure out their defence lineup and Bruce Cassidy will need to make adjustments on the fly. If Boston can’t figure out their blue line quickly it could prove to be their downfall.
That is unless Tuukka Rask shows up. Tuukka was the reason Boston won their last two rounds. He silenced the deadly Blue Jackets offense and literally smother the Hurricanes like a wet blanket. He was eating puck by the buckets. Since the final started and their eleven day layoff he simply has not looked the same. He was the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe headed into the finals, but his play has been rather uninspiring. With the three most import games of his career in front of him can the Finnish Netminder find his game?
None of this matter if Boston’s biggest problem gets their shit together. The once “best line in hockey” has been invisible. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak went missing for the better part of the Colombus series only to show up at the end to save the day. Are they capable of another magic trick in this series? I’m prone to say no, because of the work of Ryan O’Reilly. The big free agent signing for the Blues has delivered on every level. A point leader through the regular season and a giant source of defensive strength in the playoffs. He won’t get any votes for Conn Smythe but he should, the guy has single handedly shut down Bergeron. If Boston’s top line continues to go missing, we maybe hearing Gloria played through the streets of St. Louis as the cup is being lifted by the notes.
The St. Louis Blues
If your a blues fan right now you have a lot to be happy about. You survived the Boston push from game one to get a split in Boston. Your team responded well after the ass kicking it got on home ice. Plus you won game four in commanding fashion.
However there are a few things to be concerned about.
Transition game has been a big problem for the Blues. Unlike the young puck moving defenseman of Boston, the Blues have a back line that is a fifty fifty split. Guys like Pietrangelo and Dunn are able to make the right play to spring the Blues offence the other way. However they can only do that if they have the puck. The lesser side of the Blues pairings have been getting crushed by Boston’s overwhelming forecheck. Particularly the Johansson and Coyle line has made it very hard on Blues D-Men in this series. If the Blue want to win this best of three they will need to adjust their break out.
Will the real Jordan Binnington please stand up? The Blue’s rookie netminder set the NHL on fire when he came into the league. His playoff performance backed up his regular season numbers. He has also never lost two games in a row in these playoffs. However, you are starting to see some cracks.
Sure that is likely for any goaltender this late into the playoffs, but the cracks are seemingly more mental than physical. He is giving up big rebounds. He is having problems tracking pucks from the blue line. Most importantly he is starting to let the mind games of the Bruins creep into his game. David Backes and Brad Marchand the chief offenders. Binnington’s game has never been flashy, his form is solid and he makes the stops he should. So what has really set him apart has been his intense mental composure. The famous “do I look nervous quote” set the tone, and to this point he has backed it up. But you have to start to wonder is the stage becoming too much for the journeyman goalie turned superstar?
I picked the Blues to win this series in six games. All and all I still think that is likely. Boston looks physically beaten up by the larger Blues. I think there is a good chance tonight’s game will be close but St. Louis will come out on top. Bringing it back to St. Louis in an elimination game on home ice favors the Blues. However if they slip in St. Louis they have been the best road team all year, so it’s hard to bet against them.
I still think Blues in six, that is unless Tuukka Rask finds his game then its anyone guess.