Most observers expect a long Stanley Cup Final series between the Blues and the Boston Bruins, and game one…a 4-2 Bruins win that included an empty net goal…was probably typical of what we’ll see throughout. There was some good, bad and ugly for the Blues, and here’s just a sampling of it…
Jordan Binnington: Binnington faced 37 shots and made 34 saves, so the loss isn’t on him. He was especially sturdy in the second period, in which the Blues were outshot 18-3 and spent most of the time in their defensive zone. In fact, as the Blues took a couple of bad penalties in that period, Binnington stepped up on the PK. He even had a little run in with Bruins pest Brad Marchand. It probably doesn’t happen often with Marchand, but Binnington was in his head before he was in the Blues’ head. That might change during the series, but Binnington is kind of the Marchand of goalies. He plays with an attitude. If the Blues play their typical game in game two and Binnington plays exactly the same way, STL will take their chances.
The first 21 minutes: The Blues were even in shots in the first twenty minutes and had a 1-0 lead. They were able to take the game to the Bruins, who may have experienced a little rust after their eleven-day layoff. But the Blues took advantage, and then got a goal from Vladimir Tarasenko a minute into the second period. Normally such a lead spells victory for the Blues, but they quit playing their game after that and allowed the final four tallies of the game. As Brayden Schenn said, “A 2-0 lead, there was a lot of hockey and we just didn’t play our game after that. I thought we had a good start to the first period, got to our game a little bit. Then we just started getting too spread out, weren’t getting pucks in, turning pucks over.” Boston had something to do with that, but the Blues allowed it, too.
The second period: After Tarasenko’s goal one minute in, it was all Bruins. The Blues didn’t even have a shot in the last 12-plus minutes of the period, and couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone. It was an ugly, ugly nineteen minutes of hockey. Perhaps the Blues relaxed after going up 2-0, but part of these teams being mirror images of each other is that they’re relentless, hard working clubs that don’t let adversity get them down. The Bruins didn’t, and earned the breaks they got.
The inability to produce a consistent forecheck: I go back to the Winnipeg series, where in game five at Winnipeg the Jets had possession of the puck in their offensive zone for thirty seconds of the final eleven minutes of the game. The Blues barely had possession in the offensive zone after getting their 2-0 lead. And it’s one thing to get the puck into the offensive zone, but the Blues game is to maintain possession among all four lines in that area. The Blues had passes deflected, had pucks bounce off sticks and were tightly defended. They need to overcome that in game two and get to their game, as Craig Berube says. Way too many passes that were going toward the Blues net. They need to be thinking north, north, north and keep the puck deep.
Taking five penalties: One of the keys to this series for the Blues is going to be maintaining discipline because Boston’s power play is so good. In game one, they took five penalties, and four of them were bad. Sure, there was a questionable hook by Robert Thomas in the first period, but the trip by David Perron in the first, the high stick by Joel Edmundson and the cross check by Oskar Sundqvist in the second and the interference by Sammy Blais in the third were all legit. There are sixty minutes in a game. Even if you don’t allow a power play goal, the energy expended killing off ten minutes of penalty time takes its toll on the skaters. The Blues did allow one power play goal and were shorthanded for 9:37. Those minutes might have been the difference between winning and losing.
The fourth line getting outplayed: Boston’s fourth line of Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari accounted for a goal and three assists and was a plus-six. Seeing as the Bruins only had two five-on-five goals, that’s impressive. Meanwhile, the Blues fourth line of Sundqvist, Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen didn’t show much. In 14:25, Steen had a couple of hits, Barbashev had six hits in 14:05, and Sundqvist took the bad penalty that led to Boston’s goal in his 14:55. Sundqvist had the group’s only shot on goal, let alone a point. I figured coming into the game that the Blues third and fourth lines could be the difference in the series, but the Blues fourth line was dramatically outplayed in game one. They need to be better in game two, and it’ll be interesting to see if Berube makes any personnel changes in the second game, either with Robby Fabbri or MacKenzie MacEachern.
The Blues lost game one to San Jose and beat them in six, so losing game one isn’t a death knell. They just need to keep doing what was good, reverse the bad, and make the ugly look a little better in game two.