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Stanley Cup Final

Blues rode Binnington, O'Reilly to first Stanley Cup title

Even-strength proficiency, play on road pivotal in victory against Bruins in Final

by Louie Korac / NHL.com Correspondent

The St. Louis Blues' 4-1 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday gave them their first championship in their 51-season history.

The Blues became the first team from any of the four major North American sports leagues since 1967-68 to be in last place in the league standings after one quarter or more of a season and win a championship. They matched the NHL record for most road wins (10) in one Stanley Cup Playoff season and are the fifth team in NHL history to win Game 7 of the Cup Final on the road, joining the 1945 Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1 at the Detroit Red Wings), 1971 Montreal Canadiens (3-2 at the Chicago Black Hawks), 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1 at Detroit) and 2011 Bruins (4-0 at the Vancouver Canucks). 

 

[WATCH: Blues vs. Bruins Game 7 highlights | Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

St. Louis matched the NHL record for most postseason games played (26), needing two six-game series wins along with two seven-game series victories. They defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the Western Conference First Round, defeated the Dallas Stars in seven games in the second round, and defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the conference final.

The Blues had the fewest points (34) in the NHL on Jan. 3 and used a St. Louis-record 11-game winning streak to jump back into playoff contention and finish third in the Central Division, one point behind the first-place Nashville Predators.

Here are 5 reasons the Blues won the Stanley Cup:

 

1. Even-strength play

St. Louis outscored Boston 17-14 at 5-on-5, but more importantly they held the Bruins' top five forwards -- Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk -- to three goals, none by Bergeron.

"I think our 5-on-5 play [was] excellent throughout the series … just getting it in and wearing them down," forward Pat Maroon said. "Holding pucks down low, not just throwing them to the front of the net. That transitions their game into odd-man rushes, so just lugging pucks down, getting to the back of the net, protecting the puck, taking pucks to the net, getting in the goalie's eyes, and I think we [had] success."

Video: Daneyko commends the Blues' neutral zone defense 

 

2. Road warriors

The Blues, 21-13-7 on the road during the regular season, continued to play well away from Enterprise Center by going 10-3 as visitors in the playoffs, but they saved their best road performances for the Final.

They won three of four games at TD Garden, including Game 7, and even after a demoralizing 5-1 loss at home in Game 6 when they could have clinched the Cup in front of their fans, St. Louis was confident it could win the Cup on the road.

"We played our style on the road," center Tyler Bozak said. "It's not pretty, but it gets the job done."

The Blues outscored the Bruins 11-8 in Boston.

"Maybe taking a more simpler approach more than anything," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I think when you're at home, you're maybe trying to play a little differently at times. On the road, more of a simpler approach, I think, directness, predictable probably has a lot to do with it. We've just been a good road team for a long time. We feel pretty comfortable on the road."

 

3. Big minutes on blue line

St. Louis was going to rely on its top three defensemen to deliver key performances, and that meant Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester were going to have to deliver. They did.

Bouwmeester led all skaters in Game 7 with 28:34 of ice time. He led all skaters in Game 5 with 29:08 and was plus-4 in the series.

Pietrangelo had six points (one goal, five assists) in the series, and Parayko teamed up with Bouwmeester to shut down the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line.

"They've been doing that all playoffs against good lines," Berube said. "Their skating ability and size and reach are a big thing. They have good sticks out there, they close on people and there's not a lot of room. And they're getting help, too, from our goalie and our forwards. I think everyone [did] a pretty good job."

Video: Parayko, Bouwmeester carrying load for Blues defense

 

4. Winn-ington

Goalie Jordan Binnington set an NHL record for wins by a rookie goalie in a single postseason with 16. Like the rest of his teammates, he was particularly stellar on the road during the Cup Final, going 3-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage at TD Garden.

Binnington came up big in the second and third periods of Game 2, when he made a combined 15 saves in a 3-2 overtime win; was key in the first period of Game 5, when he made 17 saves in an eventual 2-1 win; and kept St. Louis afloat in the first period of Game 7, when it was outshot 12-4 but held a 2-0 lead on the way to its Cup-clinching victory.

"He was good, especially early," Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. "We played the way we wanted to play, with a lot of speed and created chances. He was fighting through traffic and made some great saves."

Binnington finished the playoffs 8-2 with a 1.78 GAA and .937 save percentage following a loss.

"He's been bouncing back throughout the whole year," defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "He just gets his confidence back right away. He doesn't dwell on the past and he always comes ready to play the next game, and I think our whole team responds well after a loss."

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: Binnington dazzles in Game 7 victory

 

5. O'Reilly's rally

Center Ryan O'Reilly, who said after Game 7 he was playing with a cracked rib throughout the playoffs, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason. He finished tied with Bruins forward Brad Marchand for the NHL playoff scoring lead with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists), including nine (five goals, four assists) during a six-game point streak in the Cup Final.

He became the third player in NHL history to score his team's opening goal in four straight Cup Final games, joining Sid Smith of the Maple Leafs (Games 1-4 in 1951) and Norm Ullman of the Red Wings (Games 3-6 in 1966). He also was the first player since Wayne Gretzky (1985) to score in four straight Cup Final games.

O'Reilly can become the first player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe, Selke (top defensive forward) and Lady Byng (skill/sportsmanship) trophies in the same season.

"You dream of this for so long," he said. "As a kid, that feeling comes back to you of just what it means to win this thing. I still can't believe this. I can't believe I'm here right now and a Stanley Cup champion with this group of guys."

Video: STL@BOS, Gm7: O'Reilly receives Conn Smythe Trophy

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