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Stanley Cup Final

Bruins sunk by top-six forward woes, injuries in Stanley Cup Final

Subpar performances at home, even-strength struggles big factors in loss to Blues

by Matt Kalman / NHL.com Correspondent

The Boston Bruins' attempt to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2011 came to an end with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday.

Because the Bruins play in the Atlantic Division along with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the regular season, Boston might not have been expected to reach the Cup Final. But the Bruins parlayed balanced scoring, experience and talent into a Stanley Cup Playoff run that went two rounds deeper than in 2018 with series wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes.

Boston tied the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers for most goal-scorers in a single postseason with 21, and goalie Tuukka Rask finished the playoffs with a 2.02 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. In the end, it wasn't enough.

Here are 5 reasons the Bruins lost the Stanley Cup Final.

 

1. Home-ice disadvantage

The Bruins extended the best-of-7 series with a road win in Game 6, earning the opportunity to host Game 7 of the Cup Final for the first time in their history. But home-ice advantage wasn't kind to Boston, which lost three of four home games against St. Louis.

The Bruins got their raucous crowd behind them in the first period of Game 7 with a 12-4 edge in shots on goal, but none of them got past goalie Jordan Binnington. The Blues scored twice late in the period, and the Bruins seemed flat the rest of the game.

"I think you're playing in the Stanley Cup, in the playoffs, in the Final and there's always pressure," Rask said. "I don't think it matters to us that we were home. It definitely didn't look like it. We played a good first period, but when you're down 2-0, you try, you try, you try and nothing goes through, then it's, 'What can you do?' That's how it goes sometimes. I don't think it was pressure."

 

2. 5-on-5 play

The power play went 7-for-24 in the Cup Final, and defenseman Brandon Carlo scored a shorthanded goal in Game 4. At even strength, though, the Blues outscored the Bruins 17-14.

St. Louis' large defensemen displayed a knack for keeping Boston's forwards on the perimeter and limiting second opportunities in the slot. And Binnington allowed six goals in the Blues' four wins.

"He's made some big saves all series, different times," Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. "I just think there was a time period where we just kind of stopped firing pucks, we were trying to make the pass and even [when he allowed] some rebounds … that's where we got some chances, but he played great. He made the saves when he needed, and that's what kept them afloat."

 

3. Top-six forward struggles

The offensive problems at even strength would have been rectified if any of their top-six forwards had produced the way they did in the regular season. Instead, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk combined for three even-strength goals (one each for Pastrnak, DeBrusk and Marchand; Marchand's goal was into an empty net). Karson Kuhlman scored playing with Krejci and DeBrusk in Game 6, but prior to that, David Backes didn't score from that spot in the lineup.

"I mean, that's playoff hockey," Marchand said. "You're not going to dominate every game, you're not going to score every goal. It is what it is. Obviously, we hold ourselves to a high standard and we would have liked to be better. That's hockey."

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Binnington extends for clutch save

 

4. Injuries to defensemen

Matt Grzelcyk sustained a concussion on a boarding penalty by Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the first period of Game 2 and didn't play again until Game 7. Zdeno Chara sustained facial injuries when Brayden Schenn's shot deflected up off Chara's stick in the second period of Game 4; Chara didn't play the rest of the game. The Bruins lost the two games when they were down to five defensemen.

Chara returned for Game 5 and finished the series but had to wear extra protection on his helmet and might have been limited in what he could do or see. Uncertainty about Chara's status for Game 5 forced coach Bruce Cassidy to dress seven defensemen, throwing off the lineup ever so slightly in a 2-1 loss that put the Blues one win from the Cup. 

Without Grzelcyk for four games and two-plus periods, Boston wasn't able to transition the puck nearly as well against the Blues' effective forecheck.

Video: Sundqvist suspended one game for boarding

 

5. Blues' forecheck and physicality

Even when Grzelcyk was in the lineup and the Bruins were at full strength, they had to withstand a beating every game from the Blues, who were willing to hit on every shift and sold out on every forecheck. That clearly wore down Boston, which was at a size disadvantage against St. Louis, which also was able to wear out the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final. 

There's a reason the Blues defeated the Sharks in six games, the Dallas Stars in seven games in the second round and the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the first round. They were built to win long series, and the Bruins were not built to do the same against a team like the Blues.

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