The Stanley Cup Final shifts back to Boston for a huge Game 5 Thursday night. After this contest, one team will have a chance to hoist the Cup with a win in Sunday’s Game 6. It has been a back-and-forth series between the Bruins and Blues, with both teams playing like a champion at different times throughout the series.
Leading up to tonight’s game, here is a little bit on what St. Louis and Boston each did well in Game 4, and what each of them need to improve on in order to secure a 3-2 series lead.
We’ll start with the Blues, who salvaged an awful Game 3 with an inspired effort and their first home win in Stanley Cup Final history in Game 4. They did a number of things well, highlighted by the fact they only gave Boston two power-play chances and shut them down both times. In the first three games, the Bruins had 14 power plays, scoring on six of them. St. Louis was finally able to find that balance of being aggressive and hard-hitting while also staying within the rules.
Leading up to Game 4, St. Louis’ top regular-season scorer, Ryan O’Reilly, was held in check, along with most of the other forwards. But O’Reilly finally broke out, scoring in the first minute of the game and burying the rebound in the third period in what turned out to be the game-winning goal. It was a welcome sign for O’Reilly and for the Blues, who will need him to be at his best tonight and for the rest of the series.
One area that the Blues may need to improve upon is their own power play. They had three chances, failing to generate much on any of them. The worst part was during the second period, where after the Blues put together a phenomenal shift that resulted in a power play, Brandon Carlo of the Bruins tied the game with a short-handed goal. Through four games, St. Louis is 1-for-13 with the extra attacker, a figure that must improve in a pivotal Game 5 on the road.
Have To Have The Puck
The Bruins still did some things really well in their first regulation loss of the series. They put themselves in front of a lot of shots which created some rushes and scoring opportunities. Their penalty kill was also superb, as it has been all series, and even resulted in a short-handed goal to tie the game at 2. Boston also got a good performance from Tuukka Rask, who made 34 saves and did everything he could to keep the Bruins in it.
Of course, there are areas to improve. First, possession of the puck and shot total were both completely dominated by St. Louis. For the 60 minutes of ice time, the Blues were better for a good 45-50 of them. The Bruins were outworked, plain and simple, and it showed in the 38-23 shot difference. That’s now three straight games the Bruins have been outshot, so Game 5 should be about sustaining offense rather than relying on odd-man rushes and putting pucks on Jordan Binnington as often as possible.
Then there’s the question of how to replace Zdeno Chara. Chara, the Bruins’ captain and one-half of their first defensive pairing, took a puck to the face in the second period and left the game, later diagnosed with a broken jaw. He is questionable for Game 5, but his absence may shift Torey Krug to the first pairing. Krug had a bad Game 4, with a team-worst -3 plus-minus. Should he have to take on a more vital defensive role, he will have to improve.
Who wins Game 5?
It truly has been a back-and-forth series, with each team taking turns dominating the other. The Chara injury may complicate some things for Boston, but they have shown great ability to respond after defeats and will do so once again. I’ll pick the Bruins -150 to win a pivotal Game 5 and take a 3-2 series lead.