A 4-2 win in game four of the Final has the Blues within two wins of the Stanley Cup Championship, and guarantees that they’ll play the maximum number of home games for the first time in franchise history. After a 7-2 win in game three, Boston came in confident that they’d be able win on Monday to go home and win it. Now they know they’ll have one more game at Enterprise Center…and one or two at TD Garden.
When the Blues play a game like they did on Saturday in game three, and then turn around play the way they did Monday night in game four, it’s reasonable to ask why they can’t play the way they did in game four all the time. There are several reasons…some of their own making and some of Boston’s making…that cause the dramatic shift in results from game to game.
Here’s a list of what has happened in the first four games…
-First, it’s important to give credit to the Bruins. They’re just as good as the Blues are. They can roll four lines, they have a great goalie, and unlike the Blues…they have a terrific power play. In the two games the Blues have lost in this series, they’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in the penalty box. Boston’s power play is hitting at a 34.8% clip in the post-season. In the Bruins’ wins, the Blues have played right into their opposition’s hands.
-When the Blues have success, it’s because of their forecheck. They admit it, everyone knows it, and it’s also known that sometimes they just can’t get to their game. I asked Colton Parayko about the difference between a 7-2 loss in game three and a 4-2 win in game four. He said “we kinda forecheck. I mean, I know it’s kind of been said throughout the whole series, but that’s what it is. When they’ve played well, they’ve had a really good forecheck. They’re obviously a really strong team. And I think that’s what it is. It’s two teams that are going really hard against each other, and the forecheck can be a game changer. Playing tight as a group, system wide, and things like that…both games that each team has won, they’ve played really well in.”
-In game two, the Bruins lost Matt Grzelcyk to an injury when he was pasted to the boards by Oskar Sundqvist, and having five defensemen took a toll on the Bruins. In game four, Brayden Schenn’s early second period shot found Zdeno Chara’s face, knocking him out of the game, and the same thing happened. Again the Blues were able to wear the Bruins down. The Blues had a stretch from about the 11:00 mark of the second period until Connor Clifton of Boston took a penalty at 13:53 in which the puck was in the Bruins defensive zone. That span was total domination by the Blues. Unfortunately, Boston scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game at the 14:19 mark; but that four minutes of excellence was the essence of the Blues wearing down Boston’s defense.
-Speaking of wearing down, the Blues have outhit the Bruins in each of the first four games. Game 1, 33-32; Game 2, 50-31; Game 3, 35-29 and Game 4, 44-41. When the other team has absorbed 162 hits over four games, it’s going to take it’s toll. That’s the exact thing the Blues did when they eliminated San Jose. You can see the effect the Blues physical play is having on Boston…and as the series continues you’d have to think the hitting will take more and more of a toll on the Bruins’ bodies.
-Getting Sundqvist back from suspension and Vince Dunn back from injury certainly played a role in the game four win. Sundqvist played nearly twenty minutes, including 1:48 of the Blues four minutes of shorthanded time. It’s no coincidence that the Bruins scored four power plays in game 3 when Sundqvist was out, but went 0-2 in game four. Dunn played 12:57, and took nine shots at the net with three getting to the goalie. He had a big assist on Ryan O’Reilly’s first goal less than a minute in. Coming back after suffering a major face injury three weeks ago is impressive, and a huge benefit to the team.
-The Final feels normal for the Blues now, and that’s key. They got the jitters of their first Stanley Cup Final game out of the way on Memorial Day in Boston, and then their first home game out of the way on Saturday. Coach Craig Berube was concerned about his team being too amped up for game three, and said “you’re always worried about that, especially in the Final where game three is your first game at home. I felt our team had a calmness about them today (before game four) at practice. You guys might not notice stuff like that but practice was just crisp and calm. I knew our guys were going to be ready tonight. Game three, a little bit too much emotion, probably, and that led to some frustration and composure issues throughout the game.” Now that those issues are out of the way, the Blues can get down to just playing their brand of disciplined hockey.
The Blues re-found their game in game four. Will they maintain it, or will they struggle in an odd numbered game again? If the past is any indication, the Blues should be able to experience some consistency. They lost games one and three against San Jose, and won the last three. It won’t be a surprise if the same scenario plays out here in the Stanley Cup Final.