As I’ve talked about a number of times on our radio show this week, we can frame the remaining showdown between the Blues and Bruins in a truthful if simplistic way.
⇒ The Blues are brutes at 5-on-5 play, with no player from either side in the penalty box.
⇒ The Bruins are hardly soft when playing 5-on-5, but they’ve been propelled by devastating excellence on the special teams. The Boston power is clicking at a rate of 34.8 percent this postseason. The BB’s penalty killers have a snuff rate of 87.5 percent.
⇒ Frankly the Blues can’t match that. Not even close. But as long as wearers of The Note stay out of the box, the Blues have an excellent chance of playing the game on the their terms.
With this best-of-seven donnybrook tied 2-2, here’s the determining factor: If the Blues can avoid gratuitous penalties and lean on their winning style to control possession and offensive zone tim, they’ll likely crunch their way to the two victories necessary to capture the Stanley Cup for St. Louis for the first time in franchise history.
And while this is an anxious time — so close, but so far — Blues fans should feel better knowing that their team is smashing into the Bruins with the plan of attack that wore down Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose in the Western Conference playoffs.
Through four games, the Blues have outhit the Bruins 162-133.
The first wave of forechecking requires banging into the other team’s defensemen as frequently as possible, with the physicality creating turnovers and causing gradual but debilitating fatigue.
And the Blues are winning that area of the battle. In the first four games, Blues’ forecheckers have slammed into Bruins’ defenseman for 84 official hits. On the other end, the Blues’ defensemen have absorbed 53 hits from Boston.
And this extends a pattern — a strategy — that’s been very effective for the Blues through this postseason.
Through 23 games the Blues have recorded hits on the other side’s defensemen a total of 335 times. But the St. Louis defensemen have been hit only 244 times.
Overall — hits on all players — the Blues have the edge this postseason. They’ve been credited with 569 hits, which is 82 more than opponents.
And there’s another part to this. As a group, the Blues’ defensemen are bigger and stronger than most D-men units in the National Hockey League. And this postseason the Blues’ defensemen certainly have had an advantage in height, heft and muscle when compared the defensemen on the opposing side.
In other words, hits applied by the Blues to opposing-team defensemen are more punishing and draining than the hits absorbed by the STL defensemen.
The Blues’ size is also a component in their shot prevention, and goal suppression, at 5-on-5 play.
“We believe in big defense,” Blues president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong said last week, in comments published by the Washington Post. “We have had a lot of big defensemen over a number of years. It’s probably not as physical of a game as it was, but they’re like seaweed — they’re tough to get through back there.”
And yes, this hit-related attrition matters. These hit-count numbers form a story. The bruises have impact.
Just look at how the Blues closed out their three triumphant series to advance to the Stanley Cup Final:
1. Winnipeg: Blues won the final two games of the first-round series, outscoring the Jets 6-4 to end it six.
2. Dallas: the Blues won the the final two games of the second-round clash, allowing only two goals in the final 145-plus minutes and outscoring the Stars 6-2.
3. San Jose: the Blues pounded the Sharks into the offseason, winning three straight games to close it out in six. The Blues trounced the Sharks by a margin of 10 goals (12-2) in the final three contests.
Near the end, the exhausted Sharks were rendered vulnerable, weakened and left shorthanded by injuries due to the Blues’ punitive physicality.
Add up all three of those series, and the Blues outscored the Jets, Stars and Sharks 24-8 overall, and by 10 goals (17-7) at 5-on-5 during the winning streaks that put their opponents away.
The Bruins know what’s going on.
Let’s just say the Blues have raised awareness on the Boston side …
Which led to more whining from David Backes.
Here’s Backes via Ben Frederickson of STLtoday: “There was this comment to the refs about them being this angelic team, about not taking penalties all playoffs, and then all of a sudden the whistles are put away. We’ll keep playing through the stuff. They’re doing it, and we need to find the goals any way that we know how to. I felt like there were less calls. No question.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is more measured. “I mean, let’s face it,” Cassidy said in his Wednesday news conference. “They want to knock our (defensemen) around no matter what number or name is on the back of the sweater. That’s been their M.O.
“They’ve been effective at it at times. When we’ve been the better team, we’ve been able to avoid that and use our breakouts, our foot speed, to our advantage. So I think that’s what’s made it an interesting series.”
This much we know: The Blues were 6-1 in Games 5-6-7 during the Western Conference playoffs and outscored opponents 23 to 9.
(Is that good?)
This much we also know: Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington had an astonishing .949 save percentage in Games 5-6-7 of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Blues get stronger as the series goes longer.
It’s getting late in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 5 tonight, Thursday in Boston. Game 6 Sunday in St. Louis. It’s down to a best-of-three now.
Time for the working-man Blues to do their thing.
+ When a Stanley Cup Final is locked 2-2 through four games, the team that wins Game 5 has gone on to clinch the series 18 out of 25 times.
+ The Blues are, amazingly, 4-0 this postseason in games in which they allowed a shorthanded goal. In NHL history they’re the first team with four such wins in a single postseason.
+ Goals scored by Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak at 5-on-5 play: none.
+ Assists from Boston’s top line at 5-on-5 action: none.
+ At even strength Boston’s defensemen have combined for a goal and two assists for three points.
+ At even strength St. Louis defensemen have two goals and six assists for eight points.
+ Percentage of all even-strength goals scored by Boston in Eastern Conference playoff games against Toronto, Columbus and Carolina: 61 percent.
+ Percentage of all even-strength goals scored by Boston in the first four games Stanley Cup Final: 47 percent.
+ Pardon my facts, and don’t let them get in the way of the popular narrative. But Binnington has a .926 save percentage at 5-on-5 this series — that’s better than Tuukka Rask’s .909.
+ Pardon my facts, again, but Binnington has the superior save rate at 5-on-5 on high-danger chances. (Binnington .826, Rask .814.) And on 5-on-5 scoring chances? Binnington .922 and Rask .902.
+ Most minutes played by a defenseman in all situations, during the 2019 postseason: STL’s Alex Pietrangelo, 589 minutes and 22 seconds.
+ Most minutes played by a forward during the 2019 postseason: STL’s Ryan O’Reilly, 488 minutes and 31 seconds.
Thanks for reading …