BOSTON – As he almost always does, TSN analyst Ray Ferraro came up with the perfect way to illustrate how closely matched the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are in the Stanley Cup final. “If these two teams played 15 games,” Ferraro said between periods of Game 6, “they’d go into the 15th game tied 7-7.”
It may have been so far overshadowed in Canada by the amazing run of the Toronto Raptors (understandable) and hijacked by terrible officiating (inexcusable), but this Stanley Cup final has been one of the more entertaining and compelling in recent memory. It truly has been a heavyweight fight, with two teams playing big-boy hockey, trading uppercuts and upper hands. The only thing it would need now is for Game 7 to go to overtime for only the third time in NHL history and the first since 1954, when a shot by Tony Leswick of the Detroit Red Wings went off the glove of Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey and into the net.
Wouldn’t the drama of an overtime in Game 7 be wonderful? After all, it’s been 65 years since it has happened. We’re due. But even if it doesn’t go to extra time, here are seven things to look for in Game 7:
1. THE HITS KEEP COMING
It’s almost as though the Bruins grew tired of the narrative that the Blues are the bigger, stronger and heavier team in this series and they’ve started to hit back. As imperfect as the statistic is, the Blues lead the Bruins 225-203 in hits in the series and the only game where St. Louis badly outhit Boston was Game 2 when the disparity was 50-31. But where the Blues were much more effective was in getting in on the forecheck and creating havoc for the Bruins’ defensemen. But the Bruins have made an adjustment and in the past two games have actually outhit the Blues 70-63. They also outshot the Blues in Games 5 and 6. In fact, the Bruins took a page out of the Blues forechecking playbook in Game 6. “I thought we did a really good job,” Cassidy said of stopping the Blues’ forecheck. “I thought that’s why the chances and the shots went in our favor.”
2. ROAD SWEET ROAD
The Stanley Cup will be in the TD Garden and the Boston faithful will be amped, but that same situation did little for the Blues in Game 6. In fact, home-ice advantage hasn’t been much of a factor in these playoffs, with home teams sporting an underwhelming 45-41 record on familiar ice. In this series alone, the road teams are 4-2. So could the Blues come in and steal one in Boston? They absolutely could. You almost got the sense that in Game 6, the moment was a little too big for the Blues. They won’t have to worry about any of that in Boston.
3. ERR JORDAN?
Blues goalie Jordan Binnington has had his moments in this series, but he has also struggled. The bouncing goal by Brandon Carlo to put the Bruins up 2-0 in Game 6 was the killing blow. But Binnington has been notorious for following up losses with outstanding performances, the way he did in Game 4 when he shut the door on the Bruins after being pulled for the first time in his NHL career. The Blues don’t need otherworldly goaltending from their rookie, but they do need him to get in front of the stoppable shots and not give up any bad ones. His history to this point suggests he’ll be up to the task.
4. AND AT THE OTHER END…
To say that Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is dialled in at the moment would be an enormous understatement. In fact, regardless of whether the Bruins win or lose Game 7, Rask has emerged as the leading contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. Compared the rest of the playoffs, his stats in the finals have not been eye-popping – his save percentage is .925 and his goals-against average is 2.16 – but he has been a rock for the Bruins. If one goalie is more likely to have to steal a game, it’s Rask.
5. PUCK OVER GLASS…PLEASE, NO
In the past four games, there have been five penalties called for delay of game for puck over the glass, including one for each team in Game 6. Nobody wants to be Brian Campbell, whose penalty for that infraction cost the Buffalo Sabres a chance to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2006. This creates a conundrum. Players don’t want to take that penalty, but if they don’t, they risk a bad clear that creates a scoring chance, which is basically why the rule is there in the first place.
6. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Much has been made of the Bruins’ big-game experience. And it’s hard to argue. The Bruins’ core players have seen virtually everything there is to see in a playoff run, while David Perron is the only Blue who had played in a Stanley Cup final prior to this post-season. But by now the Blues have picked up the requisite experience. They’ve played six games in the Stanley Cup final and that has to count for something.
7. AND FINALLY…OFFICIATING
Knowing the way things have gone in these playoffs for the NHL, there could be a controversial play where “the best referees in the world” refuse to make a call because it might affect the outcome of the game…only to have it affect the outcome of the game. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. A series this good and this competitive should be decided without a memory that will blemish it. If the NHL’s rotation is adhered to, it should be Steve Kozari and Kelly Sutherland officiating Game 7. Those were the two referees who missed the Tyler Bozak trip on Noel Acciari in Game 5 that led to the winning goal. Gord Dwyer and Chris Rooney did a very good job in Game 6 and should get it on merit. But let’s just hope we don’t even remember the names of the guys who officiated Game 7. How about that?
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