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Stanley Cup Final

Blues have Bruins right where they want them in Stanley Cup Final

St. Louis has been dominant in Games 5-7 in playoffs; series tied 2-2

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

BOSTON -- If you're the St. Louis Blues, you've got to be encouraged. You've got to think the Boston Bruins are vulnerable.

You've got to take advantage of it.

The Bruins were favored entering the Stanley Cup Final. But the best-of-7 series is tied 2-2 entering Game 5 at Boston on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), and the statuses of defensemen Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk are uncertain because of injuries.

"I guess their mentality might be, 'Hey, we're slowly chipping away at their health,'" Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "So maybe that motivates them a little more to stay on their game. But only they can answer that."

The Blues won't answer that, of course. All they will say is that they will prepare and play the same way no matter who is in the lineup for the Bruins.

But the Blues have gotten better as the series have progressed in each round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Games 5-7 of series, they are 6-1, outscoring their opponents 23-9. They hit and forecheck and take a toll over time.


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If Chara, Grzelcyk or both can't play -- or if one or both are limited -- St. Louis will have a chance to put even more pressure on the rest of the Boston defense.

"I mean, let's face it," Cassidy said. "They want to knock our [defensemen] around no matter what number or name is on the back of the sweater. That's been their M.O.

"They've been effective at it at times. When we've been the better team, we've been able to avoid that and use our breakouts, our foot speed, to our advantage. So I think that's what's made it an interesting series."

In the Western Conference First Round, the Blues and Winnipeg Jets were tied 2-2. The Blues won Games 5 and 6.

In the second round, the Blues and Dallas Stars were tied 2-2. The Blues lost Game 5, then won Games 6 and 7.

In the conference final, the Blues and San Jose Sharks were tied 2-2. That series had the same pattern this one has had. The Blues lost Game 1, won Game 2, lost Game 3 and won Game 4. The Sharks were beaten up, and the Blues won Games 5 and 6.

"I think we finally realize we have to get to our game, and when we get to our game, we're a really good hockey team," Blues forward Pat Maroon said. "It takes us some time to adapt, I guess, and figure out how they play and how we need to play."

Everyone knows how the Blues need to play. They can't turn over the puck and give up rush chances. They have to play a simple game, get the puck in deep, and establish the forecheck.

"Especially teams like San Jose and Boston, they have a lot of skilled players and offense," Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko said. "They're waiting for us to turn the puck over. So it's really important to get it deep. Maybe it's not nice sometimes, but it seems like it's working."

Video: Blues defense creating scoring chances in Cup Final

That goes hand in hand with discipline. The fewer turnovers, the fewer rush chances against, the fewer bad spots defensively, the fewer penalties, the fewer power plays for the Bruins, who are converting at 37.5 percent in the series (6-for-16) and 34.8 percent in the playoffs (23-for-66).

The more time at 5-on-5, the more the Blues roll four lines, the more time in the offensive zone, the better. Bruins forwards David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, Marcus Johansson, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak have combined for zero 5-on-5 goals in the series. The Blues have had 56.0 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts.

Draw penalties, and the power play, 1-for-13 (7.7 percent) in the series, should have a better chance if Chara is not on the Boston penalty kill.

"We've just got to keep doing the same thing," Maroon said. "Our team's not flashy at all. Our team's north-south, dumping it in, wearing teams down.

"I think when we don't do that, their [defensemen] are effective. They're moving up in the play (and creating) odd-man rushes. ... I think when we're doing good, we're limiting their time and space, we're getting pucks down low, we're wearing them down, and that makes it difficult for the [defensemen] to jump up in the play and create offense for them."

If the Blues don't get to their game, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug and company are more than capable of burning them even if Chara and Grzelcyk are out. But if the Blues get to their game, they have to like their chances, especially if Chara and Grzelcyk are out.

"Our game is the way we want it right now," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's just a matter of us going out and executing."


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