- The Backes Bowl, breakout players and St. Louis’s long-awaited return to the Stanley Cup Final—the x-factors that will make this year’s final so intriguing.
With a statue of an airborne Bobby Orr sitting just outside TD Garden memorializing the last time these teams met in the playoffs, it’s hard not to get excited for a rematch that’s been 49 years in the making. The Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and the Blues is destined to be a memorable one, but the focus goes far beyond just a rematch.
For St. Louis, ending a 52-year Cup drought is top of mind. The Blues found themselves in the final in their first three seasons and have quietly been frequent flyers in postseason, but have yet to grab that elusive championship. In fact, they haven’t been to the final since Orr went flying through the air to clinch Boston’s fourth Cup. But after finding itself at the bottom of the standings at the start of 2019, St. Louis has been on an unbelievable run that it hopes to end with some shiny new hardware.
At the other end of the ice, the Bruins are looking for their first Cup since 2011 behind netminder Tuukka Rask, who has been bionic this postseason and has an opportunity to silence his critics who say he struggles to show up in the big moments (but more on that later). This series will also serve as the next chapter in the rivalry between Boston and St. Louis through the four major sports that seems to heavily favor Beantown.
Here is a sampling of what to watch for when the Stanley Cup Final kicks off on Monday, May 27 in Boston.
Three two-inch thick steel posts form a hockey net’s bounds and Rask fills everything in between. This postseason is littered with highlights of shooters staring down an open net, only for Rask to recover and make an extending-pad save and remove all potential space. Rask’s 2019 postseason performance has drawn comparisons to Tim Thomas’s 2011 Stanley Cup run with the Bruins—and for good reason. The Finnish netminder has suppressed each of his opponents, leads all goalies in almost every statistical category and is a perfect 4–0 with a .975 save percentage and 0.75 goals against average in elimination games. He’s been superhuman in net.
St. Louis’s 25-year-old rookie isn’t too bad, either. Jordan Binnington was buried far down St. Louis’s organizational depth chart one year ago and found himself playing for the Providence Bruins (St. Louis had no AHL affiliate in 2017–18). Binnington’s supernova Calder campaign powered a 24-5-1 regular-season record with a league-leading 1.89 goals against average and carried the team into the playoffs. He has looked more human compared to Rask and has surrendered five-plus goals in three postseason games, but Binnington responded with a bounce-back performance each time. Add an undefeated record in closeout games and multiple Blues postseason franchise records to his resume.
Binnington can steal a game, but Rask can steal a postseason. Shooters beware.
The 2017 Penguins had Jake Guentzel and the 2019 Blues have had Jaden Schwartz. The 26-year-old, eighth-year winger has tallied more goals in the playoffs (12) than in the regular season (11). Those 12 goals are one shy of the Blues’ single-postseason record, set by Brett Hull in 1990, and include two hat tricks. Craig Berube’s hard-nosed, relentless system manifests itself through Schwartz, whose golden touch around the net and fifth-most takeaways (20) of any player in the playoffs places him in the Conn Smythe conversation.
The Bruins sent Ryan Donato and a fourth-round pick to the Wild and brought Charlie Coyle back home. Born and raised in East Weymouth, Mass., Coyle guided his public high school to the state championships played at—where else?—TD Garden. Now, his six postseason goals are fourth-most on the team and he has 21 combined points with linemate Marcus Johansson, fueling a third line that has ignited the Bruins’ secondary scoring. Coyle scored the game-winning goal in Game 1, at home, against the Blue Jackets. As one of three BU products on the Bruins, Coyle has and will play a pivotal role in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Beantown.
While some fans were hoping for a Joe Thornton Bowl as the Western Conference Final was wrapping up, the David Backes Bowl we were given will be interesting to watch unfold. Selected in the second round of the 2003 draft, Backes spent his first 10 seasons with the Blues, serving as captain from 2011 to 2016. Backes was well-loved in St. Louis and helped the Blues reach the playoffs in six of his 10 seasons before he left for the Bruins in free agency in 2016. The 35-year-old winger, who is still searching for his first Stanley Cup, was a healthy scratch at the start of the playoffs this year, but has two goals and three assists in his 11 games on Boston’s second line.
Making it to the Stanley Cup Final is no easy task and requires some hard-fought road wins, but both teams have been exceedingly exceptional on the road this postseason. The Bruins are 6–2 on the road with the Blues posting a 7–2 record as the away team. And while Boston has posted a 6–3 record at TD Garden, the Blues are an even 5–5 at Enterprise Center this playoffs. This could make for a very interesting final that could possibly see some disappointed home crowds.
REST VS. RUST
It has become a trend this postseason that after a team sweeps, it goes on to lose its next series. The Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the first round, then lost to the Bruins in six games. The Islanders swept the Penguins in their opening series, but immediately found themselves brushed into the dustpan at the hands of the Hurricanes. Carolina then found itself winless against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Boston, which will enter the Stanley Cup Final having 10 days of rest, is hoping to break this trend. To help prevent any rusting, the Bruins held a scrimmage on Thursday, during which Brad Marchand had a temporary injury scare. The extended time off was also likely welcomed by Boston captain Zdeno Chara, who didn’t play in Game 4 against Carolina, but played the entirety of Thursday's scrimmage. But the Blues will have their fair share of rest heading into this series. St. Louis will have had five full days off after ending the Western Conference Final in six games.
No one on the Blues’ roster has ever won a Stanley Cup and David Perron is the only one who has even been to a Stanley Cup Final when he was with the Golden Knights last season. There are notable players on both benches who are still searching for their first championship rings, including Backes and Jaroslav Halak for the Bruins, and Tyler Bozak and Jay Bouwmeester for the Blues. And then there is Pat Maroon, who opted to turn down more money in free agency and go to his hometown St. Louis to be closer to his family. Maroon now has a chance to bring home his city’s (as well as his) first Stanley Cup in his first season with the Blues.
FIRST WIN FOR ST. LOUIS
The Blues were the only team to reach the Stanley Cup in a franchise’s inaugural season until the Golden Knights appeared in the final last year. Barring a potential Seattle dynasty, the Blues will remain the only expansion team to then make three consecutive finals. Another distinction: St. Louis was swept in each of those appearances. The Jean Beliveau–led Canadiens overcame the dazzling performance of goaltender and pioneer of the butterfly Glenn Hall (who won the Conn Smythe), never beating St. Louis by more than one goal in their 1968 sweep. The Blues were limited to three goals in four games in the 1969 rematch against the Habs. Then, Orr’s famous flying-through-the-air goal punctuated the Bruins’ 1970 sweep against St. Louis. Before the Blues can win the Stanley Cup, they need to win a game.