The Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues meet in the Stanley Cup Final, a series that figures to be competitive because each team has been similarly successful at even strength.
However, the Bruins will hold some important advantages when the Cup Final begins with Game 1 on Monday at TD Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Start with goaltending, where Boston's Tuukka Rask has been arguably the best player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 17 playoff games, Rask has a .942 save percentage, which includes a .945 save percentage at even strength and .924 while the Bruins are shorthanded.
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In the past decade, there have been six instances when a goaltender played at least 10 playoff games and recorded an even-strength save percentage of at least .945. Rask did it three of those times; in addition to this postseason, he had a .945 even-strength save percentage in 2013 and a .947 even-strength save percentage in 2014. The Blues simply must find a way to break through against Rask at even strength.
Blues rookie Jordan Binnington, though, has a .926 even-strength save percentage in the playoffs and a .833 save percentage when St. Louis shorthanded. The difference between Rask and Binnington in shorthanded save percentage is notable. It is a tiny sample, so it could turn in a moment, but it does identify a comparative advantage that favors Rask and the Bruins.
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Special teams play such an important role in the playoffs, and the Blues and Bruins have been shorthanded for the least amount of time per game in the postseason. The Blues, shorthanded for 6:18 per game in the postseason, were a relatively disciplined team during the regular season, ranking eighth in the NHL with an average of 7:35 shorthanded time on ice per game.
On the other hand, the Bruins, who rank second in the playoffs with 6:21 of shorthanded ice time per game, ranked 30th during the regular season with an average of 9:43. The Bruins' newfound discipline has certainly helped them reach the Final.
Boston's power play tops the NHL in the postseason, scoring on 34 percent of its opportunities with 17 goals in 17 games. That is even better than it performed in the regular season, when the Bruins ranked third with a 25.9 percent efficiency on the power play. St. Louis' power play in the postseason ranks ninth, at 19.4 percent, which is only slightly behind their regular-season efficiency of 21.1 percent, which ranked 10th.
With Rask in goal, the Bruins have been effective penalty killers, too, ranking third with 86.3 percent efficiency. The Blues have not been as successful shorthanded, ranking 11th in the playoffs with 76.0 percent penalty-killing efficiency. They were more effective in the regular season, killing 81.85 percent.
If the Blues can neutralize Boston's apparent advantage on special teams, that would level the playing field because both teams have been relatively strong at 5-on-5.
Through three rounds, the Bruins have a collective SAT percentage of 51.19, fractionally ahead of the Blues, at 51.06. That is virtually a statistical standoff.
During 5-on-5 play, the Blues have scored 2.16 goals per game, the best rate in the playoffs, while allowing 1.63 5-on-5 goals per game.
That's a 0.53 goals-per-game advantage for the Blues at 5-on-5.
Boston has scored 1.88 goals per game but has allowed just 1.35 5-on-5 goals per game, which also leaves the Bruins with a 0.53 goals-per-game advantage at 5-on-5.
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Though the even-strength matchup appears to be more even, the Bruins do have the benefit of a powerhouse line that is capable of dominating in a way that few others can. Patrice Bergeron (3.71), Brad Marchand (3.35), and David Pastrnak (3.18) is each averaging more than three shots on goal per game. Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko (3.37) is the only St. Louis player generating more than three shots on goal per game in the playoffs.
The Bruins also have the benefit of having David Krejci producing in a supporting role. His 3.33 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 ranks second in the playoffs among players to play in at least 10 games, behind Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Duchene.
Bergeron is one of the great two-way players in the game, and his playoff performance backs up his reputation; he has a 56.85 shot attempts percentage and a plus-7.68 relative shot attempts percentage. The Bruins are dramatically better with him on the ice.
As great as Bergeron has been, there is another player in the Final who has even better such numbers in the playoffs. Blues forward Jaden Schwartz has thrived in the postseason. After scoring 11 goals during the regular season, he has 12 goals in 19 playoff games, which includes 2.17 goals/60 at 5-on-5. The Blues have been dominant with Schwartz on the ice, controlling 57.24 percent of shot attempts, giving Schwartz a relative shot attempts percentage of plus-8.68.
It's going to be incredibly difficult for the Blues if they can't slow the Bruins' strong special teams, but if they can, maybe they can also win what appears to be a relatively balanced even-strength matchup. It would seem to be their best option for winning the series.