The Boston Bruins dominated Game 3, defeating the St. Louis Blues 7-2. Now both teams face a huge Game 4, where the series will either be tied, or Boston will be one win away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Here is a little on what each team has done well this series, where they need to improve, and a final prediction for who takes Game 4.
What has gone right: If you’re going off of Boston’s performance in Game 3, then a lot of things have gone right. Most notably the power play, where the Bruins unleashed four power-play goals on Saturday to bring their total to six out of 14 in the series. They were also incredibly efficient on those power plays, getting four total shots on the net and only taking 2:06 to score all of them. After going 1-for-5 in each of the first two games, their power play finally exploded, and now has a 35.9% success rate this postseason. Only the 1981 Islanders were better.
Another noticeable advantage for Boston so far has been its depth. Bottom-six forwards Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom, along with defenseman Torey Krug, lead the Bruins with four points this series. Those two forwards, as well as Noel Acciari, are also the team leaders in plus-minus. These depth players are dominating their counterparts on St. Louis, and as a result, have given their team a series lead once again.
Where they can improve: Game 3 saw the return of Boston’s first line scoring, with Patrice Bergeron racking up a goal and two assists, David Pastrnak scoring a goal, and Brad Marchand dishing out an assist. A consistent scoring output will need to continue but also improvement on the defensive side. Those three have been badly outworked by whomever St. Louis has thrown onto the ice, currently sitting at a combined -8 through three games. A shutdown effort from those three may be needed for Game 4, even more so than their offense.
Another place to improve is in the shot battle. Last game, despite a hearty advantage in the face-off circle and four power plays, Boston was still outshot by five. They’ve now been outshot in the last two games by 19 shots combined. While winning the shot battle isn’t critical for victory, scoring seven goals on 24 shots is hardly sustainable. Regression to the mean may come as soon as Game 4.
St. Louis Blues
What has gone right: This season, the Blues have relied on tough, physical play to stifle opponents and earn close wins. This series, their physicality has definitely been noticed. St. Louis has done a good job of laying out hits, being aggressive along the boards, and tiring out the Bruins, particularly in Game 2. It has been ever-apparent against Boston’s first line, which hasn’t been able to muster up a whole lot against St. Louis. Too much physicality may force the Blues to tire out, but don’t expect that to be the case in a must-win game tonight.
Another area the Blues have succeeded in is 5-on-5 play. Through 137 minutes of 5-on-5 action this series, both teams have five goals each. But in fact, according to some advanced statistics, the Blues have been the better team in that regard, having the edge in shot rate (51.4%) and high-danger chance rate (51.8%). The more 5-on-5 we see this series, the more likely it is the Blues start to have more success.
Where they can improve: Despite the advantage during 5-on-5 play, there’s a reason St. Louis finds itself down in the series, and it has to do with its penalty kill. The PK in Game 3 was atrocious, giving up four quick goals on four shots in a little over two minutes total. The kill has to improve, but more importantly, the Blues need to stay out of the box. All series, St. Louis’ physicality has resulted in penalties, putting Boston on 14 power plays this series. The Blues have to control their emotions and avoid costly penalties, or else more of the same could be in store for Game 4.
Just as Boston’s forward depth has been a strength for them, St. Louis’ depth, or lack thereof, has been a weakness for them. Through three games, only three forwards have scored goals for the Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko (2), Brayden Schenn (1), and Ivan Barbashev (1). Other key forwards like their point leader from the regular season, Ryan O’Reilly, and their postseason goal leader, Jaden Schwartz, have yet to find the back of the net, although both have assisted for others. For Game 4 and beyond, St. Louis’ forwards will need their offensive output to increase.
Who wins Game 4?
Boston has been the better team through three games, but St. Louis has shown enough signs that they can get back in the series. It will take discipline to stay out of the penalty box, but if the Blues do that, 5-on-5 will make more of a difference, Jordan Binnington will improve dramatically, and the Blues can tie the series. I will take the Blues -120 to win Game 4.