2019 Stanley Cup Final Preview

2019 Stanley Cup playoffs

For two-plus rounds the San Jose Sharks were the story of the 2019 playoffs. The Sharks were certainly a serious contender despite suffering several key injuries during their quest. However, what San Jose will be remembered for most during this postseason is helping rewrite the NHL yearbook. The Sharks caught break after crazy break, including a hand-of-god play in overtime of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals that gave San Jose a 2-1 series lead against the St. Louis Blues.

Amazingly, that would be the last game San Jose would win. St. Louis added another painful chapter to the Sharks’ playoff history by winning the next three games to return the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 49 years. This Blues team, which sat in last place on Jan. 3, is hardly a fluke. After posting the best record in the NHL in the second half of the season, St. Louis discovered yet another level at the end of its series with San Jose.

The Blues’ finals opponent just happens to be the same team they played back in the spring of 1970—the Boston Bruins. The same Bruins that years ago swept the upstart Blues and won on arguably the most famous goal in NHL history, Bobby Orr’s flying through the air overtime winner.

Boston, six years removed from its last Final appearance, will again be a favorite against the Blues after whipping around upstart Carolina like a ragdoll in a four-game Conference finals sweep. However, the time around the margins should prove to be extremely tight, with little separating either team. I think St. Louis will match up even better with Boston than San Jose, who I picked to reach to the finals and face off against the Bruins.

Stanley Cup Final Preview

Boston Bruins (First Round: Defeated Toronto 4-3; Second Round: Defeated Columbus 4-2; Third Round: Defeated Carolina 4-0)
vs. St. Louis Blues (First Round: Defeated Winnipeg 4-2; Second Round: Defeated Dallas 4-3; Third Round: Defeated San Jose 4-2)

The Bruins are playing their best hockey of the season, even better than during their 19-game unbeaten streak at the beginning of 2019. Goaltender Tuukka Rask (12-5-0, 1.84 goals against average, .942 save percentage) is extremely locked in, and the clear leader for the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. Rask, who got hot toward the end of round one against Toronto, has allowed a remarkable total of just one goal in the three clinching games for the Bruins, earning two shutouts. After a slow start against Columbus in the second round, Boston’s top line is now hitting on all cylinders. Patrice Bergeron (team-leading eight playoff goals), David Pastrnak (15 points) and Brad Marchard (team-leading 18 points) dominated Carolina. The trio provided the exclamation point on the Eastern Conference Final, scoring all four goals in Boston’s 4-0 clinching Game 4 win. The Bruins’ forward depth, including trade deadline acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, and defense led by Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, have been nearly as good as the top line.

If there is a concern for the Bruins, it would be one of two: first, captain Zdeno Chara missed Game 4 against Carolina due to injury (he is expected to be at full strength). Second, Boston had a massive layoff after knocking out Carolina on May 16—11 days before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Winning a Cup for veteran David Backes, a former captain and longtime member of the Blues, might be enough to engage the rusty Bruins right away on Monday night.

Much like Boston, St. Louis is peaking at the right time. The Blues played great hockey on a tough road to the Conference Final, but found another gear against the Sharks after Erik Karlsson’s hand-aided overtime winner in Game 3 marked the turning point. St. Louis allowed just two goals from that point forward, winning three games in dominating fashion with rookie goaltending sensation Jordan Binnington (12-7-0, 2.36 G.A.A., .914 S.P.) leading the way. The extremely deep Blues utilized players like Tyler Bozak, Oskar Sundqvist and hometown hero Patrick Maroon in knocking off Winnipeg and Dallas in the first two rounds. Their stars started to shine against San Jose. Sniper Vladimir Tarasenko now has eight goals and 13 points in the postseason. Ryan O’Reilly has 14. The Blues’ offensive catalyst is Jaden Schwartz, a talented 26-year-old who bounced back from an 11-goal regular season to lead the Blues with 12 goals and 16 points. Even with Tarasenko, O’Reilly and Schwartz all playing well, St. Louis’ strength remains its blue line. The Blues’ top six of Alex Pietrangelo (14 points), Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo are all terrific. At times they absolutely stifled the Sharks, Stars and Jets.

This should be a terrific final round. Little separates the two teams. Boston has a slight edge as far as top-end talent up front and in goal. St. Louis has a slight edge as far as top-end talent on its blue line and in its overall size and physical play. Each team has solid depth and a fourth line playing great. Each team is battle-tested after tough roads to the finals. The only clear edge in the Stanley Cup Finals is experience: Boston’s core is making its third finals appearance in eight years, while this is St. Louis’ first trip in 49 years. That is the edge that I think will make the difference as Boston will win the Stanley Cup in seven exciting but exhausting games.

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