5 big Stanley Cup finals questions
by Lucas Aykroyd|03 JUN 2019
Can St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington (pictured vs. Boston’s David Pastrnak) recover from a tough 7-2 loss to Boston in Game Three? That's one of the big questions.
photo: Bruce Bennett / Pool Photo via USA Today Sports
Heading into Monday’s Game Four of the Stanley Cup finals, there is much at stake for the St. Louis Blues and the visiting Boston Bruins, who hold a 2-1 series lead. NHL history shows that the 27 teams who have won Game Four to take a 3-1 series lead have gone on to capture the Cup in all 27 cases.

However, both on the team level and personal level, there are plenty of other intriguing tidbits to consider in just the second finals matchup between these clubs since 1970. That’s when legendary Boston defenceman Bobby Orr scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime on St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall and then flew through the air in one of hockey’s most famous images.

Now it’s time to make new history in 2019. Here are 5 big Stanley Cup finals questions

1) Can the Blues contain Boston’s PP?

Complaints about the officiating by St. Louis coach Craig Berube, who had the league’s seventh-highest all-time PIM total (3,149 minutes) as a player, cannot obscure the fundamental issue. Devastatingly, Boston scored four goals on just four shots during four power play opportunities in a 7-2 Game Three romp at the Enterprise Center.

That left the Bruins with a playoff-leading 35.9 percent conversion rate with the man advantage. If that held steady, it would be the second-best playoff PP of all time behind the 1981 New York Islanders (37.8 percent).

En route to the fourth final in club history, St. Louis has taken a page out of the traditional “Big Bad Bruins” playbook with its physical style and penchant for altercations after the whistles. But unless Berube’s team markedly tightens up its box play or manages to stay out of the sin bin versus Boston, this series could be over soon.

2) Will Binnington bounce back?

St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington had an outstanding regular season. With a 1.89 GAA, 92.7 save percentage and five shutouts in 32 games, it’s no wonder the 25-year-old rookie-of-the-year candidate stole the starter’s job from veteran Jake Allen. He’s also been very good during these playoffs. But the Game Three blowout, in which Binnington allowed five goals on 19 shots, had to evoke some disturbing memories of other 2010’s finals for St. Louis fans.

In 2011, the Vancouver Canucks lost 8-1 to Boston in Game Three of the finals. Vancouver starter Roberto Luongo, who had mostly shone up until this point, registered a nightmarish 78.9 save percentage in that game – although it was actually superior to Binnington’s (73.7) on Saturday. The Canucks couldn’t recover and lost Game Seven on home ice.

In 2017, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators was vying for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP until the finals. Unfortunately, his performances at PPG Paints Arena, the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, were as bad as his play on home ice was excellent. Of course, Nashville fell to Sidney Crosby’s men in six games.

Now, Binnington had never been pulled in an NHL game before. He’s put up a record of six wins and two losses after previous playoff losses. That gives some room for optimism. But the margin for error now is miniscule.

3) Is Rask on track for the Conn Smythe?

No Finnish player has ever been named playoff MVP. Tuukka Rask has an opportunity to end that drought. With superb positional play and reflexes, the 32-year-old Boston Bruins netminder has earned a 1.91 GAA and 93.9 save percentage in 20 playoff games. It’s similar to his 1.88 GAA and 94.0 save percentage in 2013, when Boston fell in the finals to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Unless Rask’s game suddenly implodes and Boston loses this series, the Savonlinna native likely holds the Conn Smythe edge over teammates like Brad Marchand (8+12=20) and Torey Krug (2+14=16). Marchand is tied for the overall playoff points lead with Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, while Krug is tied for the points lead among defencemen with San Jose’s Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

4) Will crime pay again for Marchand?

Even when Brad Marchand is coming off his first career 100-point season, the talented Bruins winger manages to create a sideshow.

Marchand, whom the NHL has suspended six times, didn’t make headlines for licking or kissing other players this spring, as he did last year. However, the 31-year-old did gain more notoriety during Boston’s second-round victory over Columbus by sucker-punching Scott Harrington in the back of the head, stomping on Cam Atkinson’s stick, and acting snarky and snippy with reporters.

When Boston won the Cup in 2011, Marchand scored two goals and an assist in the 4-0 Game Seven win over Vancouver. Yet many people principally remember his repeated punching of Canucks sniper Daniel Sedin in Game Six. And this final isn’t over yet, even though Marchand has only taken 10 PIM so far.

Despite his often-juvenile behaviour, the two-time World Junior gold medallist will retire without having won a Memorial Cup. However, Marchand, who had seven points in Canada’s gold-medal victory at the 2016 Worlds, remains in the running for the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club, regardless of what happens versus the Blues. He’s won just about everything he can win.

Of course, if Marchand does (theoretically) play for the 2022 Canadian Olympic team, he will need to keep his antics in check in Beijing under tighter IIHF officiating standards.

5) Can St. Louis win a finals game at home?

It would be nice for the Blues to end their home-ice drought in the Stanley Cup finals. They were swept by Montreal in 1968 and 1969 and Boston in 1970. But winning at home is now beyond nice: it’s essential.

If the Blues can’t win Game Four or a potential Game Six at the Enterprise Center, their Cup dreams will be over. They’re one of 12 NHL teams that has never hoisted pro hockey’s biggest prize. St. Louis entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1967/68, and is the oldest active team to not have a championship.

A Game Four loss would add poignancy and relevance to these lyrics from Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” the team’s fight song for the 2019 playoffs: “I think you’ve got to slow down, before you start to blow it/I think you’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it.”