AFP / Los Angeles
The St. Louis Blues are enjoying a storybook turnaround, going from the worst team at the start of the season to facing Boston in their first Stanley Cup final since losing to the same Bruins in 1970.
It has been 49 years since the Blues were swept by Boston in a series that culminated with Bobby Orr’s iconic overtime game winning goal.
St. Louis won three straight games to eliminate the San Jose Sharks and reach the final which begins with game one tonight in Boston.
They ousted a weary and banged up Sharks’ team with a 5-1 victory in game six of the NHL’s Western Conference final, part of an improbable run from last in the league on January 3 to the championship series.
The reversal came after Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach in November and goaltender Jordan Binnington took over the starting role in January.
St. Louis finished the regular season on a 28-8-5 run and carried that momentum through the Western Conference playoffs.
“We were trying to get on the right track,” Berube said. “Once we got going in January and February, I knew we had a good hockey team. Once you get into the playoffs anything can happen, and it did.’”
Said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, “They turned it around and just haven’t stopped going.”
The Blues were 300-1 long shots to win the Stanley Cup early in the season and despite their turnaround they still enter the finals as underdogs against the Bruins.
The Bruins will have had a 10-day break after sweeping Carolina in four straight in the Eastern Conference final.
“It’s the Stanley Cup final, game one,” said Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy. “Just the emotion and the excitement in the city and the feeling in the building is going to be contagious.”
Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said it will be a hard-hitting, physical, grinding series.
“The two hardest, heaviest teams are in the final,” DeBoer said. “Everyone talks about skill and all the small players, and there is room for that, but I don’t think it’s an accident.
“They’re (Blues) heavy, hard and organized. There wasn’t any room out there for our guys.”
The Bruins are in the final for the third time in the past 10 years and the 20th time in their franchise history.
Should they win, Boston will be the first city in 83 years to simultaneously hold the championships of Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL.
A statue outside the Boston Garden pays tribute to Orr’s high-flying goal and while they don’t have a defenceman of Orr’s stature in their lineup they are expected to get back captain Zdeno Chara for game one.
Boston are led at forward by veteran Patrice Bergeron who helped lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 2011. The two-time all-star Bergeron has a strong all around game and has eight goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games.
For the Blues, forward Brayden Schenn is looking to play a bigger offensive role in the final. Schenn is one of the best two-way players in the league. He was in a playoff scoring slump up until he finally potted a goal in the series-clinching game six against the Sharks.
In order for Schenn to continue to capitalise on scoring chances, he is going to have to make that extra move around the net instead of just hammering away at the puck.
“I’m a guy that gets put in offensive situations, whether it’s power play or playing with the top players on this team,” Schenn said. “I did it throughout the regular season but playoffs, it’s tough.”
Unheralded forward Jaden Schwartz has helped make up for Schenn’s offensive struggles by scoring 12 goals in the playoffs so far, one more than he scored all regular season.
One of the more interesting finals matchups is the goaltending battle between Boston’s red-hot netminder Tuukka Rask and the Blues’ Binnington.
Finland’s Rask gives the Bruins the decided edge, leading all goalies in the playoffs with a 1.84 goals against average.
The Bruins know Canada’s Binnington better than any other team in the league as he spent last season on loan with their Providence farm team in the AHL after refusing the Blues request to go down to the lower division ECHL farm league.
Stanley Cup Final schedule
May 27: St. Louis at Boston
May 29: St. Louis at Boston
June 1: Boston at St. Louis
June 3: Boston at St. Louis
June 6: St. Louis at Boston (if needed)
June 9: Boston at St. Louis (if needed)
June 12: St. Louis at Boston (if needed)
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