Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues face off for the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup Final faces off May 27th and the St. Louis Blues have been waiting patiently for 49 years to exact some revenge on the Boston Bruins. The teams met in the Final back in 1969/70 when the Bruins swept the Blues quite easily in four contests. The fourth game was the closest with Boston’s Hall of Fame blue liner Bobby Orr scoring the winning goal and then celebrating by sailing through the air. The teams met two years after that historic moment with Boston once again winning in four games in the semifinals on their way to another Stanley Cup.

It’s taken the Blues 49 years to reach the Final again after making it in the franchise’s first three seasons from 1967/68 to 1969/70. They are still waiting to hoist their first Stanley Cup and are 0 for 12 in Final series games as they were swept in all three previous appearances. Boston has won two more Stanley Cups since 1970 as they also lifted the trophy in the 1971/72 and 2010/2011 seasons. The Bruins will be hunting their seventh championship overall in their 20th Final appearance.

The Bruins went 49-24-9 during the regular season for 107 points and earned home ice advantage by posting the second-best record in the league, the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division. They have beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes in this year’s playoffs in seven, six and four games respectively. They enter the Final with seven straight postseason victories to their name and have gone 8-0 in history against the Blues in the playoffs while outscoring them 48-15. The teams split the season series this year as Boston won at home 5-2 in January and the Blues were 2-1 winners in a shootout in February.

St. Louis earned 99 points in the regular season with a record of 45-28-9 and finished in third place in the Central Division and were the fifth seed in the Western Conference. They had the worst record in the league on January 3rd but then caught fire the rest of the way. Head coach Mike Yeo was relieved of his duties on November 21st and the team’s fortunes started to change about five weeks later under new bench boss Craig Berube, who has been nominated as a finalist for coach of the year this season. The Blues then beat the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks in the playoffs in six, seven and six games.

The Bruins have the edge in net, at least on paper as Tuukka Rask leads the league in the postseason in shutouts with two, goals-against average at 1.84 and save percentage at 94.2. The Blues will reply with Jordan Binnington, a 25-year-old rookie who was called up to the team midway through the regular season. His record stood at 24-5-1 in the regular season and he was named one of three finalists as the NHL’s rookie of then year. His numbers are still impressive in the playoffs but not quite as good as the regular season with a GAA of 2.36 to accompany a 91.4 save percentage and a shutout.

The Bruins home record in the postseason is 6-3 and they’re 6-2 on the road. The Blues are 5-5 at home and 7-2 on their travels. Boston’s goals-per game average stands at 3.35 in the postseason with a GAA of 1.94. St. Louis is scoring 3.00 goals per game on average with a 2.52 GAA. The Bruins’ power-play has been the best in the postseason at 34 per cent with an 86.3 per cent penalty-killing efficiency. The Blues are 19.3 per cent with the man advantage and have killed off 78 per cent of their penalties.

Individually, the Bruins’ top performers have been Brad Marchand (7 goals, 11 assists), David Pastrnak (7 goals, 8 assists), David Krejci (4 goals, 10 assists), Patrice Bergeron (5 goals, 8 assists), Charlie Coyle (6 goals, 6 assists) and defenseman Torey Krug (1 goal, 11 assists). Over in St. Louis, the top scorers are Jaden Schwartz (12 goals and 4 assists), Ryan O’Reilly (3 goals, 11 assists), Vladimir Tarasenko (8 goals, 5 assists), David Perron (six goals, 7 assists) and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (2 goals, 11 assists) and Colton Parayko (1 goal, 10 assists).

Boston Bruins aiming for their seventh Stanley Cup

They still don’t know who they’re going to play yet, either the St. Louis Blues or the San Jose Sharks, and it doesn’t really matter to the Boston Bruins as they aim for their seventh Stanley Cup this season. The Bruins have made it to the final series for the 20th time after disposing of the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the opening series followed by a six-game victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets and a four-game sweep over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final.

Boston won the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions but won’t be satisfied unless they hoist Lord Stanley’s cup. Whoever the Bruins end up playing they will have home ice advantage in the series due to finishing second overall in the NHL standings this season. This will be Boston’s third appearance in the Stanley Cup final in the past nine seasons. The last time they played for all the marbles was in the 2012/13 campaign when they lost in six outings to the Chicago Blackhawks. The last time they won the cup was 2010/11 when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh and deciding game.

The Bruins have captured the title six times in club history to rank in a fourth-place tie with Chicago for the most cups. They are also level with the Blackhawks for the most cups won by an American franchise, but quite a way behind the record of 11 which belongs to the Detroit Red Wings. However, the Bruins haven’t really had much luck in Stanley Cup final series as they have won six and lost 13. This translates into a winning percentage of just 31.6. They’ll now try to improve on that stat starting on May 27th when the final series gets underway in Boston.

The Bruins have reached this year’s final mainly due to the depth of their squad as well as their successful power-play and the fine work of 32-year-old goaltender Tuukka Rask of Finland. Boston’s power play operated at a clip of 46.7 per cent in the Eastern Conference final against Carolina as they were seven for 15 and their penalty killing unit killed off 92.9 per cent of their penalties by going 13 for 14. The Bruins’ power-play has been successful a league-best 34 per cent of the time in the postseason while their penalty killing is an impressive 86.3 per cent.

In between the posts, Rask’s record is 12-5 with two shutouts, a 1.84 goals-against average and a league-leading 94.2 save percentage. He’s been getting plenty of scoring help as the Bruins have received at least one goal in the playoffs from 19 different players to set a new league record. Brad Marchand leads the way with seven goals and 11 assists in 17 games followed by David Pastrnak with seven goals and eight assists, David Krejci at four goals and 10 helpers, Patrice Bergeron with eight goals and five assists. Charlie Coyle at six goals and six assists and defenceman Torey Krug with a goal and 11 assists.

That’s half a dozen players who have reached double digits in points so far and Marcus Johansson has nine points in 15 games on three goals and nine assists. General manager Don Sweeney deserves credit for the contributions of Coyle and Johansson as he acquired both players at the trade deadline in February. Coyle came over from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for for Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round draft choice while Johansson was landed from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a second and fourth-rounder.

Coyle and Johansson took some time to get used to their new surroundings in Boston as Coyle chipped in with just a pair of goals and six points in 21 regular-season contests and Johansson contributed a goal and three points in 10 games. However, they have both brought experience and size to the Bruins in the postseason as well as some much appreciated secondary scoring. Coyle is centering Johansson and Danton Heinen and Heinen has also helped the team out with two goals and five assists during the postseason. If Boston can continue to light up the lamp on the power-play, get good goaltending from Rask and receive contributions from the third and fourth line they should have a good shot at adding a seventh Stanley Cup banner to their rink.

St. Louis Blues still looking for first Stanley Cup

The St. Louis Blues have been working towards winning a Stanley Cup ever since joining the NHL as an expansion team back in 1967/68. However, they have yet to realize their goal as their Stanley Cup drought is tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the longest in the league. The Leafs last hoisted the silverware in the spring of 1967 just months before the Blues played their first ever NHL game.

The Blues have made it as far as the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks this season after downing the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the opening round and then going the full seven to take care of the pesky Dallas Stars. In fact, they didn’t eliminate Dallas until scoring in double overtime of the deciding contest at home to win the game 2-1. It was the first time the Blues have fought back to win a seven-game series after trailing 3-2 in games in 1998/99 when they beat the Phoenix Coyotes after trailing 3-1.

St. Louis has now gone 9-8 in their history in game-sevens in the playoffs. Their final game against Dallas also set a new NHL record as three series have been decided in overtime of game seven so far this season. The Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes went to a seventh-game overtime in the first round of the postseason as did the Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks series. The Blues still have a lot of hard work ahead of them if they hope to snap their cup drought though since they lost the first game of the conference Final 6-3 in San Jose and the Sharks have home-ice advantage in the series.

The two teams also met in the 2015/16 Western Conference Final with San Jose winning in six games and in the five previous series between them the Sharks have a 3-2 edge. St. Louis may not be too concerned about where game seven will be played if the series against San Jose goes that far though since their playoff record on the road this year is an impressive 5-2. on the other hand, they need to improve at home as they are just 3-4 so far in St. Louis.

Even though the Blues and Leafs have gone without a Stanley Cup since 1967 the Leafs have never made it as far as the Stanley Cup Final since then while the Blues have reached three cup finals. In fact, the Blues made it to the Final the first three seasons they were in the league when the NHL expanded to 12 clubs from six. The expansion franchise didn’t fare too well however as they were swept in four straight games in all three final series. The Montreal Canadiens beat them in 1967/68 and 1968/69 while the Boston Bruins shut them out in the 1969/70 campaign.

The St. Louis franchise has been quite consistent since joining the NHL as they have missed the playoffs just eight times in their 51-year history. They have also been crowned division champions on nine occasions and in 1999/2000 they had the league’s best regular-season record and took home the President’s Trophy for their efforts. For the Blues to finally win the Stanley Cup they’ll need 25-year-old rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington to continue his sharp play. He’s gone 8-6 in the playoffs with a goals-against average of 2.57 and a 90.8 save percentage. He may be tiring though since his GAA was 1.89 in the regular season while his save percentage was 92.7.

Jaden Schwartz is leading the offence with eight goals and four assists after scoring just 11 times in 69 regular-season contests. Captain Alex Pietrangelo is helping out from the blue line with two goals and nine assists while centre Ryan O’Reilly has three goals and 10 points. The team needs more production from winger Vladimir Tarasenko however as he’s chipped in with five goals and one assist but he’s a minus-8 and just one of his goals have come at even strength. St. Louis currently has a one-in-four chance of winning the Stanley Cup this season and those odds could be good enough to snap their half-century drought.

Carolina Hurricanes make the most of their playoff opportunities

The Carolina Hurricanes don’t participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs that often, but when they do manage to reach the postseason they definitely make the best of the situation. The Hurricanes fought back from a 3-2 deficit to the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in the first round this season to win the series in seven games and then used the momentum to steamroll the New York Islanders in four straight in the second round. It was the first time the Carolina franchise had won a four-game series in four straight.

This is the club’s first playoff appearance since 2008/09 and just the fourth time they’ve played in the spring since 2001. However, in the previous three playoff appearances they managed to reach the Eastern Conference Final each time and in 2005/06 captured the Stanley Cup. The sweep over the Islanders puts them back in the Eastern Final for the fourth consecutive time when making the playoffs. Carolina outscoredĀ  The Islanders 13-5 in their series even though starting goaltender Petr Mrazek was injured during the second game.

With Mrazek on the sidelines head coach Rod Brind’Amour replaced him in the crease with 35-year-old journeyman Curtis McElhinney. When the veteran started game three of the series he became the oldest goalie to start his first playoff game. Les Binkley of the Pittsburgh Penguins set the previous record back in 1970, but McElhinney was 37 days older than Binkley when he got the nod for his first playoff start.

The Hurricanes didn’t lose a beat without Mrazek as McElhinney went 3-0 in the series and posted a goals-against average of 1.56 along with a save percentage of 94.7. Carolina will play the winner of the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Boston Bruins series for the Eastern Conference title and there’s a good chance Mrazek will be ready to return in that series. Carolina has been red hot at home in the postseason with a record of 5-0 and they’re getting some timely scoring from youngsters and veterans alike.

Nineteen-year-old rookie Andrei Svechnikov is back in the squad after suffering a concussion in the Washington series and has four points in five playoff games. Thirty-year-old Jordan Staal has chipped in with four goals and five assists and 37-year-old Justin Williams has three goals and three assists in 11 games each. Twenty-one-year-old year-old Sebastian Aho has four goals and five helpers and 24-year-old year-old Teuvo Teravainen has chipped in with six goals and three assists.

In addition, the Hurricanes are getting plenty of offence from their blue liners as Dougie Hamilton has three goals and seven points while Jaccob Slavin leads the team in assists and points with 11. Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk also have six points each. One of the biggest surprises though has been the play 23-year-old rookie Warren Foegele who has contributed five goals and four assists and is a plus-7. His nine playoff points place him in a tie with Erik Cole as the most in a postseason by a Carolina rookie. Cole set the original record in 2001/02 and also holds the rookie record for playoff goals in a season with six.

Foegele was chosen by Carolina in the third round of the 2014 draft with the 67th overall pick and the 6-foot-2-inch, 190 lb power forward scored 10 goals and five assists in the regular season with a minus-17 rating. Foegele, of Markham, Ontario, is no stranger to playoff hockey though as he was named the most valuable player in the postseason for 2016/17 as a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters when he scored 13 goals and 26 points in 22 games.

If Foegele can keep it up, the rest of the Hurricanes continue to play determined, physical hockey and the team’s goaltending holds out there’s a chance the team returns to the Stanley Cup final in just their second playoff appearance since winning the cup 13 years ago.


NHL announces three Hart Trophy finalists

The NHL has released the list of award finalists for the 2018/19 season and it’s safe to say there aren’t really any surprises. Each annual trophy has been narrowed down to three finalists with the big prize being the Hart Memorial Trophy for the player voted as the most valuable to his team. This year’s Hart finalists are centre Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, right-winger Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and centre Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.

Professional Hockey Writers Association members voted on the trophy winners when the regular season ended and the league announces the three finalists. The winners are then announced at the league’s annual awards show in Las Vegas, which will be held on June 19th this year. The Hart Trophy was introduced in 1924 and let’s take a quick look at this year’s three finalists.

The 22-year-old McDavid of Edmonton racked up 116 points in 78 games this season on 41 goals and 75 assists and finished second in league scoring behind Kucherov. He also registered a point on 50.7 per cent of his team’s total of 229 goals. The Oilers’ captain just finished his fourth NHL season and his point total has risen every year. McDavid never went two games in a row without scoring a points this year becoming just the eighth NHL’er to achieve the feat while playing a minimum of 50 games. The others were Steve Yzerman, Darryl Sittler, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Elmer Lach, Paul Kariya and Jari Kurri.

McDavid played an average of 22:50 minutes per game in 2018/19 to lead all NHL forwards. He finished in a second-place tie for game-winning goals with nine and three of those came in overtime. McDavid took the Hart Trophy home for his play in 2016/17 and he’s trying to become just the second player ever to win the silverware more than once before turning 23 years old.

The 25-year-old Kucherov of Tampa Bay already has one award under his belt this season as he captured the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in scoring. He notched 41 goals and 87 assists for 128 points in 82 contests this year. The 128 points were the most in the league since the 1995/96 campaign and his 87 helpers were the most since 2006/07. Kucherov’s scoring expertise helped Tampa to win 62 games in 2018/19 to tieĀ  league record. The Russian forward also led the league in power-play points at 48 with 15 goals and 33 assists.

Kucherov picked up at least a point in 62 games this season and posted a league-high 38 games of two or more points, including two five-point performances. His assist and point totals this season set new Tampa Bay franchise records for one season. He also becomes the highest-scoring Russian player in the league for his 128 points. Alexander Mogilny set the previous mark of 127 points with 76 goals and 51 assists in 1992/93 when he was with the Buffalo Sabres. Only one other Tampa Bay player has won the Hart Trophy as Martin St. Louis took the honours for 2003/04.

The 31-year-old year-old Crosby scored 35 goals and 65 assists for an even 100 points in 79 games for Pittsburgh this season. It was the sixth time the team captain has reached the 100-point barrier in 14 seasons. He helped his team reach the playoffs for the 13th straight year, but they were bounced in four straight games by the New York Islanders in the very first round. Just five players have posted more 100-point seasons than Crosby in NHL history. These are Peter Stastny and Mike Bossy with seven each as well as Marcel Dionne with eight, Mario Lemieux with 10 and Wayne Gretzky at 15.

Crosby finished sixth in league scoring this season and reached at least 30 goals for the ninth time and 60 assists for the sixth time. He also reached 1,200 career points in 2018/19, becoming the 11th-fastest player to achieve the feat in 927 games. Crosby has already won two Hart Trophies as he took the award home for the 2006/07 and the 2013/14 seasons. He also led his team’s forwards in plus/minus this year at plus-18 as well as ice time. This is the seventh time Crosby has been named a finalist for the Hart Trophy in his career and if he wins it he will become the ninth player in history to capture the trophy three times.