Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final is Sunday night between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center. The Blues, who lead the series 3-2, can win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a victory. What can we expect as the Bruins face elimination? Here's a little primer in today's Stanley Cup Playoffs Daily.
Can the Blues do this?
Yes, but it won't be easy, and they could end up being their own worst enemy.
What's the case for Game 6 being the end of this series?
Teams up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final are 32-8 for winning the series, although the last team to come back was the 2011 Bruins against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blues are proving to be a juggernaut as the series goes deeper. In games after Game 4 through four rounds, the Blues are an astounding 7-1. But they were outplayed in Game 5, despite the win, as the Bruins had a 61.10 expected goals percentage at 5-on-5. Jordan Binnington was the difference.
What's the case for a Game 7?
Home is not exactly where the success is for the Blues. They're just 6-6 in St. Louis this postseason; even if they win the Cup in Game 6, that home record is going to rank among the most mediocre in NHL history for a champion, even worse than that of last year's Capitals (.545). Plus, Game 3's dud gives us pause. The emotional dynamics of Game 6 are off the charts, with the Cup in the building and the fans ready for the first NHL championship in the city's history. Last time it felt like that, the Blues got off to a brutal start and the Bruins won 7-2. And then there are the refs.
What might Bruce Cassidy's tirade about the officiating mean for Game 6?
Cassidy was rightfully miffed about the missed tripping penalty on Tyler Bozak that led to David Perron's game-winning goal in Game 5, but then cut deeper on the officiating in the playoffs by calling its quality (or lack thereof) a "black eye" for the NHL. The immediate reaction to this screed was that Blues coach Craig Berube handled it better when he worked the refs, and that Cassidy might not have done his team any favors. But the Blues are cognizant that it might also make for a more tightly called Game 6, especially since the Bruins had a legitimate gripe with that missed call.
What are the Blues saying about Cassidy and the refs?
Well, as we said, the Blues could end up being their own worst enemy. They gave up 14 combined power plays in Games 1 through 3, and lost both of those games. They've given the Bruins five combined power plays in the past two games, and won both of those. The Blues know Game 6 could be called more tightly than any other game in the Final.
"We can control it. A big focus for us is discipline. We can't give them any reasons to call penalties. We have to stay out of the box, especially with their power play. It might be a little tighter from the complaints. It's going to be reffed a little closer and we have to be aware of that," center Ryan O'Reilly said.
What's the injury status for various Bruins?
Unlike in Games 3 and 4, Matt Grzelcyk traveled to St. Louis with the Bruins, but is still wearing a red non-contact jersey. But he's unavailable for Game 6, as he's not recovered from his concussion in Game 2. The Bruins are going with a traditional lineup of six defensemen and 12 forwards, with rookie forward Karson Kuhlman drawing in for the first time since April 30. Veteran winger David Backes, a former Blues captain, sits again. As for Zdeno Chara, he was with Charlie McAvoy, was still wearing a fishbowl on his head and didn't have much to say.
Wait ... Chara spoke?
As best as he could. After submitting answers to the media in writing before Game 5, Chara talked on the eve of Game 6. He wouldn't specify if his jaw was broken by that deflected shot in Game 4, but said there are no limitations for him. "I feel fine playing. Obviously, it was a quick turnaround after last game here, but I felt fine," he said.
What about the Blues' injuries? What's the status of Robert Thomas?
The Blues surprised many ahead of Game 6 by having Thomas, their injured rookie standout, back in practice and skating with his usual linemates Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak. He hasn't played since Game 1 against Boston. The Blues haven't specified what his injury is, but it's an open secret that it's a wrist ailment. The Blues have used both Sammy Blais and Robby Fabbri in his place.
Could he be a difference-maker?
Thomas really struggled before he was pulled from the lineup, with one assist in his last seven games and a minus-5 rating. But Maroon's happy he might return, for one. "Oh, it'd be awesome. He has a lot of skill, he has speed, he brings a different element to the game and I think with him on our line, it makes our line a lot better. He drives the engine with his fresh legs and his young talent. It helps us go," Maroon said.
How will the Blues handle the suspension of Ivan Barbashev?
The Blues' fourth line of Alexander Steen, Oskar Sundqvist and Barbashev has been an effective trio against the Bruins' top lines all series. Sundqvist and Barbashev have been on ice for only one even-strength goal against. The Blues missed Sundqvist in Game 3, getting blown out while he was suspended for a hit in Game 2. Now it's Barbashev who has to sit out after an illegal check on Boston's Marcus Johansson in Game 5. Sammy Blais is dropping from the Bozak line done to the fourth line. "Not too much adjustment. New guy's going to come in. Me and Steener have to talk a lot, help the other guy out," Sundqvist said.
Speaking of the Bruins' top players, where are they?
It's the story of the series right now: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci don't have a single point between them at 5-on-5 in the Stanley Cup Final (Marchand had an empty-net goal in Game 1). In Krejci's case, not a single point in any situation, after 14 in his first 17 playoff games.
"It's a lot that would go into that," Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "It's not just our defensemen, it's our forwards. It's our forecheck. Everything is connected. It's making them play in the D-zone when you have your opportunity. It's gaps, making them put pucks to where they don't want to. They're a high-octane line and they can beat you so many different ways, so there's so many different things that go into playing them hard and taking away time and space."
If the Bruins are going to extend this thing to a Game 7 back in Boston on Wednesday night, they'll need their top guys to break through.
"I feel they're close, but St. Louis is tough. It's tough to get inside, they defend well, goaltender's playing well. So it's a good battle right now. But I do believe they were better, closer to scoring than they have been," Cassidy said. "And I've said it: Listen, we want them to score, but we've gotten production all playoffs from different players. It's why we're still playing. That's the mindset [for Game 6]. Your best players need to be your best players, but if they defend well and we have a good defensive game, you know, we're in it, I feel someone will step up. Probably them, because they usually do. But same token, we don't want to put so much pressure on them they get outside their overall game, their defensive game, because they're a good line all-around and we don't want them to lose that."
They are great defensively ... but they've also been outscored 4-0 in the Stanley Cup Final through five games. That has to change. And if it doesn't, we might hear "Gloria" while the Blues skate with the Cup on Sunday.