It is that time of the year again. 31 teams have competed throughout the season, and now only two teams remain. The St. Louis Blues will represent the West and the Boston Bruins will represent the East, and only one can take the top prize.
The Bruins Remained Consistent Throughout the Season
Throughout the season, one thing remained perfectly clear; the Boston Bruins were not to be messed with.
The first line for Boston was a high point for them all year. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak led the way, seeming to produce points almost every single game. Although both Pastrnak and Bergeron both suffered injuries at points this season, their statistics would speak for themselves.
In 79 games, Marchand produced 36 goals and 64 assists—a perfect 100 points on the year. This was a career season for the 31 year old left-winger.
Despite missing 16 games this season, David Pastrnak was noticeably one the fastest skaters on the ice every game. At only 23 years of age, Pastrnak was able to produce 81 points this year. This bodes well for the future of the Bruins for many years to come.
Patrice Bergeron is seen as one of the heart-and-soul players of the Bruins. Not only does he produce offensively, but he does the little detail things on the ice that give the Bruins a shot at winning any game. He back-checks defensively, he wins face-offs, and is always positionally in the right place at the right time. In 65 games, Bergeron was able to acquire 79 points, which at 33 years of age is quite a feat as well.
Though the Atlantic Division’s best opponents were some of the league’s finest, Boston kept fighting through and showed that they belonged in that mix. Battling with teams such as the President Trophy champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the young and talented Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston remained relatively unscathed and went into the postseason as the second seed from their division.
Boston Faced Division Foe and Wild Cards in the Playoffs
The Maple Leafs would be the first team Boston would face in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was a lot of media buzz around the Maple Leafs securing superstar John Tavares in free agency last summer, so the hype was quite high during the first round. Despite never having a series lead on Toronto, they never would fall far behind either. Toronto won Games 1, 3, and 5, while Boston won Games 2, 4, and 6 leading into Game 7, where Boston broke the pattern and eliminated Toronto.
Round 2 involved the Bruins matching up against a surprising underdog, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were coming off of one of the biggest upsets in modern hockey history. They took down the Tampa Bay Lightning in a stunning clean sweep series. Boston would go down 2-1 in the series before winning 3 straight to defeat Columbus 4-2 in the series, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Carolina Hurricanes just came off of a series sweep of the New York Islanders, so they had time to get good and rested by the time the Bruins advanced. However, Boston made short work of things during this round. They would clean sweep the Hurricanes and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where we are today.
Last Place Blues Use Young Goalie and Leadership Core to Change Their Fortunes
Come January, the St. Louis Blues were in dead last place. The right pieces seemed to be there, yet still, nothing had clicked for them to that point.
Enter Jordan Bennington, a young, rookie goaltender who was about the get a big break just when St. Louis needed it most. In 32 games, Bennington won 24 of them, while making a save percentage of 0.927% with a goals-against-average of only 1.89 goals per game. Astonishing stats for a relatively unproven goaltender. Bennington would later be nominated for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
Off-season acquisition Ryan O’Reilly was a bright spot for the Blues in the bad times and the good times throughout the season. He was a source of consistency in the offensive zone, fitting into the Blues lineup like a glove. It took time, but the team would soon follow O’Reilly’s lead and figured out what was needed to succeed offensively.
The captain, Alex Pietrangelo, did not produce as many points as he did the previous couple of years. Still, he was able to get 41 points, which for a defenseman is considered very good. This decrease was due to a change of focus towards the defensive side of the game, and once he focused on his defensive game, everyone followed suit.
The Blues would move from dead last in January to third place in the Central Division in April. Then came the playoffs.
While Never Easy, Blues Fought Their Way to the Stanley Cup Finals
In round 1, the Blues would face a division rival, the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are known for having one of the hardest environments to play in, due to the rowdy fan base. This being said, the Blues would go on to win all 3 games in Winnipeg and defeated the Jets 4-2 in the series.
Another division foe would appear in the second round of the playoffs for the Blues to face. The Dallas Stars went into the playoffs as the first wildcard in the West. In spite of that, the Stars pulled off a major upset on the Central Division winning Nashville Predators in the first round. The series would last for a gritty 7 games, but the Blues came out on top in overtime to eliminate the Stars.
The San Jose Sharks were a source of consistency all season long, and they were the Blues’ opponent for Round 3. Logan Couture was stealing the show during the playoffs, and was ready to keep leading the way for the Sharks. However, the Blues were up to the task of stopping him. The series seemed to be going more in the Sharks’ direction through the first three games. After that, it was all St. Louis. It was a 2-1 series lead for San Jose when the Blues would clean sweep the following three games, defeating the Sharks in Game 6 to punch their tickets to the Finals.