There is one month remaining in the NHL regular season, and the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins, who met in the Stanley Cup Final last season, are leading their respective conferences. But do the Bruins have enough to get back the Cup Final from the Eastern Conference, and can the Blues get out of a crowded Western Conference? We posed that question to three NHL.com writers and let them have at it in this week's roundtable:
Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
It definitely seems to be trending toward a rematch. But things are not always what they appear to be approaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins, as elite as their top line and goalie tandem may be, have secondary scoring concerns, way too many overtime/shootout losses (12; tied for second most in NHL) and have played a ton of hockey over the past year. It would be surprising but not shocking to see Boston get taken down before the Cup Final; teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and even Toronto Maple Leafs would give the Bruins a serious test if they cross paths. The Blues are in great shape, even with the shoulder injury to forward Vladimir Tarasenko, but they'll need their top wing back and in form to repeat as champions, or even get out of the Central Division bracket. Right now, I have a feeling the winner of the likely Colorado Avalanche-Dallas Stars series, assuming those teams are healthy, can reach the Cup Final out of the Western Conference.
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Tom Gulitti, staff writer
To me, St. Louis remains the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Final from the Western Conference. The Blues have battled through a host of injuries this season and getting Tarasenko back will make them even more dangerous. Although the Bruins are also having a strong regular season, I'm not as confident they will get back to the Cup Final. Since 1978, two teams have returned to the Cup Final the season after losing in it -- the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers and the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the Lightning lost captain Steven Stamkos (core muscle surgery) for the remainder of the regular season, they appear primed to have the Cup run everyone expected them to have last season when they were upset by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round. Tampa Bay is 24-7-1 in its past 32 games and strengthened its depth at forward with the additions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24.
Tracey Myers, staff writer
OK, I'll be the one musketeer here. I absolutely could see the Bruins and Blues in the Stanley Cup Final, Round 2, a la the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins meeting in back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009. Except there's no "will Marian Hossa win the Cup this time" narrative. But I digress. I've seen the Blues just pick up where they left off. I guess I was in the minority thinking the Blues would weather Tarasenko's lengthy injury absence; sure, you absolutely miss that player they'll be that much better when he returns. But the Blues are so deep, if Tarasenko isn't at his best, plenty of others are there to carry the load. They've had the next-man-up mentality all season. And the Bruins are playing like a group that's ticked off at how it ended last June. So yeah, sign me up for Bruins-Blues, the Sequel.
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That would be an epic sequel. I'd sign up for another Game 7 between those teams too. How do you each see the Eastern Conference shaking out if Boston doesn't make it back there? The obvious favorites other than Boston would be the Lightning or Washington Capitals, but I feel like there could be a dark horse Cup contender somewhere in the East. Maybe the Maple Leafs? If they finally get past the Bruins -- they have lost to them in the first round the past two seasons -- I believe they have a ceiling of going all the way, especially if top defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin return from injuries for crunch time. And in the Western Conference, I could see the Edmonton Oilers being a dark horse with the way forwards Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto are lighting up the scoreboard and how well veteran goalie Mike Smith (12-1-4 since Jan. 1) has played lately. I feel like a series between Edmonton and the Vegas Golden Knights would go the distance.
I agree a Cup Final rematch would be fun, but as Tracey noted, there hasn't been one since 2008-09 and that's the lone rematch since the New York Islanders and the Oilers faced each other in 1983 and 1984. If I had to pick Western Conference a team other than St. Louis to make the Cup Final, I'd go with the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas has a deeper, more skilled team than it had when reached the Cup Final in its inaugural season in 2018 and has found another level under coach Peter DeBoer. The Golden Knights are 12-4-2 since DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant to climb from fifth in the Pacific Division to first. Also, each of the past two teams DeBoer coached -- the New Jersey Devils and the San Jose Sharks -- reached the Cup Final in his first season as their coach. In the East, other than Tampa Bay, which I mentioned earlier, the Capitals, who won the Cup in 2018, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won it in 2016 and 2017, have most of their championship cores intact and the experience to go on long playoff runs again.
It's tempting to look at other scenarios but I just can't get past the consistency the Blues and Bruins have had all season. They remind me of the Blackhawks when they had their deep runs. There's just a confidence, despite any injuries or setbacks that may come their way. I'm just wondering if this is the Bruins' revenge run, and they erase the disappointment of 2013 and 2019. We shall see.