The 2019 Stanley Cup Final started with St. Louis Blues first-line forwards Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko scoring the first two goals of the series against the Bruins quintet of Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The series unofficially ended in Game 7 when Schenn cashed in on a feed from Tarasenko 11:25 into the third period to give the Blues a 3-0 lead. St. Louis went on to win its first Stanley Cup championship with a 4-1 win at TD Garden on Wednesday.
The bookend terrible performances by the Bruins’ first line defined this series that the Bruins were close to winning, but probably would’ve won easily had any of their top five forwards performed up to expectations at even strength over the course of 17 days.
From Game 1 through Game 7, the Bruins’ top five – and they’re a top five because general manager Don Sweeney never solved the mystery of the missing right wing for David Krejci’s line – had seven points. There was an empty-net goal by Marchand, a garbage-time assist by Krejci in Game 7 and a late goal by Jake DeBrusk mixed in there. Patrice Bergeron didn’t have an even-strength point in the series (but he might be injured, so everyone tells me he’s above critique).
Playing versus Schenn and O’Reilly
Bergeron 52 mins, 0 goals, 6 against
Krejci 52 min, 0 goals, 1 against
Coyle 54 mins, 2 goals, 3 against
Kuraly 55 min, 3 goals, 4 against
— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) June 13, 2019
Game 7 would’ve been a perfect opportunity for the Bruins’ best forwards to redeem themselves. They’d done it in past rounds, even coming alive earlier in the Eastern Conference final against Carolina to make sure that series ended in a sweep. And the way Game 7 started, it seemed they were going to break through.
Boston outshot St. Louis 12-4, including three shots during the game’s only power play, but couldn’t get a puck past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. When Marchand had half the net open, he shot the puck into Binnington’s logo, his lone shot of the period. Pastrnak had no shots in the period because either he was seeing double or there was a hold in his stick blade he fanned so many times on one-timers.
And a stat that would foretell the work the Blues were willing to put in that the Bruins weren’t, St. Louis blocked nine shots in the first period on the way to 21 in the game.
“Yeah we started well, had some opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize. You know they got that first one, a couple bounces, and that was it,” Marchand said.
That wasn’t it. In past rounds when Marchand’s line, and/or Krejci’s line, struggled at the offensive end, they were shutdown trios that kept top lines from Carolina and Columbus from scoring so that the secondary offense and Tuukka Rask’s goaltending would pull the Bruins through. Bergeron’s line didn’t light up the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round like it did last spring, but it made sure John Tavares’ line was equally unproductive.
Against the Blues, Bergeron’s line gave up those first two goals in Game 1 and forced coach Bruce Cassidy to switch the matchup. The coach didn’t hard match as much the rest of the series, but maybe he should’ve done more to avoid the top line vs. top line matchup considering the way Schenn’s line exploited it to push the Bruins off the ledge in Game 7. To make matters worse, Marchand inexplicably went for a line change late in the first period, leaving Alex Pietrangelo alone to score St. Louis’ second goal.
“Yeah you’re not going to control the game the entire way through in this league, especially in the Cup Final,” Marchand said. “We had a ton of opportunities. We had a lot of good chances, but we knew they were going to push back. They’re a good team, obviously, but you know we knew they were going to be resilient, and they were going to get their opportunities. But they capitalized on theirs and we didn’t.”
You don’t have to control the entire game, but how about a little of it? Or how about not getting pushed around physically the way the Bruins were for most of the series. Noel Acciari is the personification of Bruins toughness, but when he gets blown up going for a loose puck by Sammy Blais, you know the Bruins are no longer big and bad. To their credit the Acciari and his fourth-line mates did all they could to save the Bruins. Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom combined for 11 points while bringing as much physicality as they could muster.
Unfortunately at this time of year, everyone has to contribute offensively and everyone has to contribute physically. The Bruins’ top five forwards were impotent with the puck and seemed incapable of initiating body contact before the Blues could pound them at every turn.
“Just today it wasn’t our night. Too bad it was the most important day of our lives,” Krejci said.
It wasn’t just one day, it was more than two weeks of nights that weren’t theirs. The Bruins’ top five has a lot of reflecting to do this offseason, and Sweeney has a lot of things to consider when building his top six for next season.
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