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Stanley Cup Final

Stanley Cup Final storylines

Blues pursuing first championship; Bruins forward Backes playing for title against former team

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Forty-nine years later and finally the St. Louis Blues are getting a second chance against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blues advanced to their first Cup Final since 1970 with a 5-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final at Enterprise Center on Tuesday.

The Bruins have been waiting to learn their opponent since Thursday, when they finished a four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes with a 4-0 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final at PNC Arena.

 

[RELATED: Full Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

Boston, in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time this decade (2011, 2013) and 20th time in its history (since 1924), defeated St. Louis in a four-game sweep to win the Cup in 1970. Bobby Orr soared into the air after scoring the winning goal in overtime of Game 4, creating one of the most iconic images in NHL history.

A statue of a flying Orr, arms raised, stick high and mouth agape, sits outside TD Garden, where the Bruins and Blues will play Game 1 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVAS).

Rehashing that series and visuals of Orr's goal will undoubtedly be a part of the coverage of the upcoming Stanley Cup Final. It's one of many storylines that will dominate headlines in the coming weeks. 

Here are eight more:

 

1. Worst to first for St. Louis?

The Blues are the only NHL team in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to reach the Stanley Cup Final after being in last in the NHL during the regular season after at least 20 games played. They did it in 1967-68 and again this season.

St. Louis was in last place Jan. 3 with 34 points through 37 games. The Blues have won an NHL-high 42 of 64 games since, including 12 of 19 in the playoffs.

Four more wins and St. Louis will win the Stanley Cup for the first time. One more win and the Blues will have their first Cup Final win in history. They reached the Cup Final in 1968, 1969 and 1970, but got swept each time.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blues heading to Stanley Cup Final

 

2. Rask vs. Binnington

The challenge the Blues have is figuring out how to beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who has been the main difference in the seven-game winning streak Boston carries into the Final.

Rask has a 1.84 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, both tops among goalies in the Stanley Cup Playoffs who have appeared in at least one full game. He has a 1.29 GAA, .961 save percentage and two shutouts during his seven-game winning streak, which dates to May 2.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington's playoff numbers aren't as impressive as Rask's, but they're still pretty darn good for a 25-year-old rookie, especially of late. A finalist for the Calder Trophy this season, Binnington has a 2.36 GAA and .914 save percentage in 19 games. He enters the Cup Final having allowed two goals on 71 shots to win Games 4, 5 and 6 against the Sharks.

 

3. Boston's long layoff

The Bruins will have gone 10 full days without a game before playing Game 1 on Monday. Other teams that have had layoffs of at least five days have not fared well in the next round this postseason.

The New York Islanders had nine full days off after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. They didn't win another game, getting swept by Carolina in the second round.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had eight full days off after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. They lost Game 1 to the Bruins in overtime, rebounded to win Games 2 and 3, but lost three in a row to lose the series in six games.

The Hurricanes had five full days off after sweeping the Islanders. The Bruins swept them.

The Blues, it should be noted, will also have five full days off before Game 1.

 

4. Selke series

It's reasonable to think Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and Blues center Ryan O'Reilly will match up against one another during the series. They will want to keep it about the teams, but this should be a fantastic one-on-one battle to watch.

Bergeron and O'Reilly are Selke Trophy finalists this season along with Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone. Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy four times. O'Reilly is a finalist for the first time in his NHL career.

Bergeron has 13 points (eight goals, five assists) and has won 59.3 percent of his face-offs (217 of 366), No. 1 among forwards who have taken at least 100 in the postseason. He has a 56.85 shot-attempts percentage (SAT), 10th among skaters who have played in at least 10 games.

O'Reilly has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 19 games playing 21:26 per game, most among Blues forwards. He has surprisingly won only 48.7 percent of his face-offs after winning 56.9 percent in the regular season. O'Reilly, though, won 12 of his 18 face-offs in Game 6 against the Sharks. He also won 11 of 18 in Game 4, a 2-1 win.

Video: Bergeron, O'Reilly, and Stone named Selke finalists

 

5. Backes vs. the Blues

Bruins right wing David Backes is an emotional guy who doesn't try to hide how he's feeling, both in good times and bad. The Final will certainly test his emotions because he's trying to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career against a team near and dear to his heart.

Backes was selected by the Blues in the second round (No. 62) of the 2003 NHL Draft. He spent his first 10 seasons in St. Louis, his last five as captain. He played 727 games, had 460 points (206 goals, 254 assists) and helped the Blues get to the playoffs six times, including a run to the conference final in 2016.

Backes signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Bruins on July 1, 2016. He was a healthy scratch earlier in the playoffs before being re-inserted on the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets. The Bruins haven't lost since.

 

6. Chara's health

The good news is Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is back on the ice, working in his usual spot on the left side of the top defense pair with Charlie McAvoy on his right.

Chara, who has three points (one goal, two assists) and a plus-11 rating in 16 playoff games, missed Game 4 against the Hurricanes with an undisclosed injury. The 42-year-old won't definitively say if he will play in Game 1 against St. Louis, but all indications are that he should be good to go.

Chara is the oldest player to appear in at least 16 playoff games since Hockey Hall of Fame forward Mark Recchi played 25 with the Bruins as a 43-year-old in 2011. He will be the seventh player in NHL history to play in the Cup Final at age 42 or older, joining Recchi, Doug Harvey, Johnny Bucyk, Gary Roberts, Johnny Bower and Lester Patrick.

 

7. May the Schwartz be with you

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz is making up for a disappointing regular season with a dominating postseason. He led the offensive charge into the Cup Final with 12 goals in 19 games, one more goal than he scored in 69 regular-season games.

He has two hat tricks, one in a 5-0 win against the Sharks in Game 5 and the other in the series-clinching 3-2 win in Game 6 of the first round against the Winnipeg Jets.

The chemistry Schwartz has with fellow top-line forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn should be enough to give the Bruins headaches and nightmares. Tarasenko had at least one point in all six games of the conference final (three goals, five assists), including a goal and two assists in Game 5 and a goal in Game 6.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm5: Schwartz records hat trick in Game 5

 

8. What will Marchand do?

No matter what he does, expect Bruins left wing Brad Marchand to be a headliner in the series because, well, when is he not?

Marchand has been mostly on his best behavior lately with zero penalty minutes in the four games against Carolina, two in his past six games and no controversy to speak of. In the same time, he has eight points (three goals, five assists) and the Bruins haven't lost.

That's the good.

Marchand, though, has a way of finding himself in the middle of controversies. He will be a marked man by the Blues and a fascinating character to follow throughout the series, even if that means he's simply just doing his job on the ice.

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Listen: Stanley Cup Final preview from NHL Fantasy on Ice podcast

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