In the first three years of being in the NHL, the St. Louis Blues earned their way to the Stanley Cup only to see the Boston Bruins knock down those dreams. They never imagined it would take nearly another 50 years before they would feel that dream come back alive. Now, they have to rewrite history facing the same team.
Seeing the famous photo of Bobby Orr scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal to beat his St. Louis Blues doesn’t bring back bad memories for Scotty Bowman.
“Not really,” the legendary coach said. “Because we didn’t have a big opportunity to win that series.”
Orr and the big, bad Boston Bruins swept Bowman’s overmatched, expansion-era Blues in that series. Now 49 years later, Boston is in its third final in nine seasons and St. Louis is back for the first time since 1970, but this Bruins-Blues rematch is a showdown between two of the NHL’s best teams since Jan. 1.
“Now it’s more level,” Bowman said. ”(The Blues) don’t give a lot of room in their end, and of course their goalie’s been lights out.”
Coming off a sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference final, the Bruins are favored in the series that begins Monday in Boston. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Brad Marchand is playing some of the best hockey of his career with 18 points in 17 games, and there’s a mix of veterans from the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team and fresh players eager to get their names etched on the trophy.
“I think as you get older, you appreciate it even more, and you realize how hard it is to get to this point and advance and be thankful and stay in the moment,” center Patrice Bergeron said. “But then it’s back to work, and there’s a lot of work in front of us.”
Unlike in 1970, when the Bruins essentially just had to step on the ice to take the final, these Blues won’t go away. They woke up last in the league on Jan. 3 before winning 30 of their final 45 games to roll into the playoffs, where they beat the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks.
Craig Berube, who replaced Mike Yeo as Blues coach in November, said teams would rather avoid those tough times. But they’ve made his players stronger.
“We were trying to get on the right track,” Berube said after the Western Conference final-clinching Game 6 victory Tuesday. “Once we got going in January and February, I knew we had a good hockey team. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. We’re here and we did. They believed they were going to make the playoffs, and we’re here.”
The Blues are still here in large part because of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, whose first start in January coincided with the turnaround. They adopted Laura Branigan’s catchy 1980s pop hit “Gloria” as their victory song, rallied in the playoffs around young fan Laila Anderson, who has a life-threatening immune disease, and became the NHL’s latest surprise story.
“The last couple months in the city have been crazy,” star winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. “The support is amazing. They give us a lot of power. Unbelievable.”
St. Louis is the oldest franchise not to win the Stanley Cup, and its drought is the second longest behind the Toronto Maple Leafs’. The Leafs won the season before the Blues came into the league. To finish this improbable run, the Blues have to go through the Bruins, who finished tied for the second-most points this season.
“They are a hard team to play against, a really skilled team,” Tarasenko said. “But we have a hard team, too. It will be some interesting games.”
Bowman’s first thought about the series was that he couldn’t believe how long the Bruins will have to sit out. Boston will have a week and a half between finishing off Carolina and Game 1, and even St. Louis will go six days without playing.
One benefit for the Bruins is they should get captain Zdeno Chara back for the final after he missed Game 4 against Carolina.
The Road To: Bruins vs. Blues matchup in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
How they got here:
The Bruins beat the Leafs in a seven-game first-round series, then dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets in a six-game second-round matchup before sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. The Blues upset the Winnipeg Jets in a six-game first-round series, then defeated the Dallas Stars in a seven-game second-round series before eliminating the San Jose Sharks in six games during the Western Conference Final.
The Bruins will have home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1990. They went 3-0 at home in the 2011 Cup Final and 1-2 in the 2013 series. Boston is 6-3 at home in the 2019 playoffs. The Blues are 7-2 on the road this postseason and went 21-13-7 away from home during the regular season.
The B’s and Blues met twice in the regular season.
Thursday, Jan. 17 in Boston: Bruins won 5-2
Saturday, Feb 23. in St. Louis: Blues won 2-1 in a shootout
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is 6-2-4 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.12 GAA in 13 career games against the Blues. He’s the leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate through the first three rounds with a 12-5 record, a .942 save percentage and a 1.84 GAA. He went 1-0-1 and stopped 56 of the 59 shots he faced in two games versus St. Louis this season.
Blues netminder Jordan Binnington enjoyed a fantastic rookie campaign and has taken that success into the postseason. He was 11-7 with a .912 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA entering Tuesday night’s Game 6 versus the Sharks. Binnington stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 shootout win over the B’s on Feb. 23, which is his only career appearance against Boston.
Breaking It Down
Here’s how these teams compare in notable stats from the regular season (NHL rank in parenthesis).
BOS: 3.13 (11th)
STL: 2.98 (15th)
BOS: 2.59 (3rd)
STL: 2.68 (T-5th)
BOS: 25.9 (3rd)
STL: 21.1 (10th)
BOS: 79.9 (16th)
STL: 81.5 (9th)
Here’s how they compare through three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs: