The St. Louis Blues have a tall task ahead of them if they are going to defeat the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. Their opponent has looked better, stronger, and more unbeatable with each passing round, and the Blues have had three tough series in a row.
Still, no one should write off the St. Louis squad that has persevered through so much to make it to their first Final in almost 50 years. If the Blues are going to win it all and capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, they will need to focus on these three things.
1) Solving Tuukka Rask
By far the biggest test facing the Blues is Boston’s seemingly invulnerable goaltender, Tuukka Rask. The 6-foot-3, 176 pound Finnish phenom has put on a clinic in these playoffs, permanently putting to rest any arguments or questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs.
Rask’s numbers in the postseason have been remarkable. He is 12-5, with a .942 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.84 goals-against average (GAA), both of which lead all playoff goaltenders. He also has two shutouts, more than any other goalie as well. Rask is far and away the Conn Smythe favorite and is poised to take his team to the promised land, unless the Blues can stop him.
There may be hope for St. Louis, though. Rask’s numbers are very reminiscent of the stats he put up in the Bruins’ 2013 run to the Final. In that postseason, he went 14-8 with a .940 SV% and a 1.88 GAA, along with three shutouts. Those numbers, as good as they were, were not enough to hold off the surging Chicago Blackhawks, who won the final series in six games.
Though they are usually rivals, the Blues will need to take some tips from the Blackhawks as to how to beat Rask. But the goalie is older and more experienced now. He will be prepared not to make the same mistakes he did then. St. Louis will need to find new ways to get pucks past the netminder if they want to raise the trophy this season.
2) Igniting Vladimir Tarasenko
One of the ways the team could potentially solve Rask is by deploying their top goal scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian sniper is second on the team with eight tallies, but hasn’t yet seemed to reach top gear.
When Tarasenko is hot, he can score with the best around. Only Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares have scored more goals than he has over the past five seasons. And with a tally in each of the last two games of the Western Conference Final, he may be warming up at the right time.
Getting their star sniper scoring will be critical for the Blues to win it all. Tarasenko has always held himself accountable for the failures of the team, even writing about it in a Player’s Tribune article in 2017. With a strong final series in these playoffs, he can put all that behind him.
I get upset when I can’t score. I want to score … I am supposed to score. This, for me, is my job. In playoffs, I didn’t score enough. I am sorry to St. Louis. I feel like I didn’t do as much as I should… are there excuses?
No. Excuses … it’s for loser. And I am not loser. I am winner.
—Vladimir Tarasenko on the Blues’ failed 2017 postseason run
If Tarasenko helps fuel the Blues to their first ever Stanley Cup victory, he will immediately vault into the top tier of St. Louis sports legends. By bringing that trophy home, he will do something even Brett Hull could never accomplish. There can be no doubt that he wants to, and now is his opportunity to take his game to the next level. If he does, the Blues will be hard to beat.
3) Playing Disciplined Hockey
There may be no more important focus for the Blues than playing disciplined hockey. The Bruins’ power play is lethal, and the St. Louis penalty kill has not been highly effective this season.
The Bruins lead the postseason in power play goals with 17, five more than the Blues and the San Jose Sharks. They are also first in power play percentage, with a whopping 34.0 percent conversion rate. By contrast, the Blues rank ninth at 19.4 percent.
There is no question that if the Blues play undisciplined hockey, they will lose this series. They must not take unnecessary penalties and steer clear of the penalty box. If they can play the majority of the series at five on five, they have an honest chance to win the Cup, but sloppy hockey could be their undoing. Fortunately, the Blues have taken 10 fewer penalties than the Bruins, 41 to Boston’s 51.
Road Warriors, Home Finishers
The Blues have done a good job of performing on the road so far in these playoffs, and the Bruins have home ice advantage. St. Louis will look to make an impact in Game 1 or 2 and take at least one of those matchups. If they can, they will have the upper hand: St. Louis has won the final game of each of their first three series at home. If they do so again, fans will witness their first ever Stanley Cup.