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Blues made most of second chances in Game 4 of Cup Final, McKenna says

Rebounds dominated storyline of series-tying win against Bruins

by Mike McKenna / Special to NHL.com

Mike McKenna has been a professional goalie for the past 14 seasons and has played for seven NHL teams and 13 minor-league teams. Most recently he played in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, playing one NHL game with them this season. He also played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19.

He knows about the most important position in the playoffs and a lot about the men who play it and those trying to score goals against them. So NHL.com asked him to share his insights during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In his most recent column, McKenna talks about how rebounds -- of all types -- dominated the plot line of a 4-2 win by the St. Louis Blues against the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Enterprise Center. It was the first home victory in Final history for the Blues and tied the best-of-7 series.

If there's one word that sums up Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, it's "rebound."

All five goals allowed by St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington and Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask were off rebounds.

 

[RELATED: Full Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

But the real story is how the Blues -- once again -- bounced back from a bad loss to claim their first home victory in the Stanley Cup Final.

Though the Blues dominated the shots on goal 38-23, large stretches were played with the score even at 1-1 or 2-2. At times, the game reached a fever pitch with each team trading scoring chances and bringing the raucous crowd to its feet.

Each goalie made big saves to keep the game low scoring, although there was a plethora of shots that missed the net. What really stood out about Game 4 was how each team, especially the Blues, generated scoring chances.

About midway through the game I began to wonder if the St. Louis locker room had a big sign reading "PUCKS OFF PADS" plastered somewhere because Rask was inundated with low shots. It appeared the Blues were intent on playing chaos hockey, throwing pucks at Rask's feet and preying on rebounds.

That game plan became obvious when Vladimir Tarasenko skated right down the middle of ice and ripped a low shot aimed just a bit outside of Rask's five-hole. Tarasenko is a player who is a premier sniper in the NHL and he loves to shoot in the middle and upper portion of the net. Instead, there he was with a good scoring opportunity, suddenly shooting low. Was he purposefully trying to generate a rebound opportunity? We may never know, but it sure looked like that was the mandate.

It paid off. The Blues' first goal was deflected in front of Rask, forcing him to drop and make a nice initial save, but he couldn't rotate and push to the far post in time to make the second save on Ryan O'Reilly's wraparound. What really made this such a challenging sequence was the tip. Because of the change in direction of the puck, Rask couldn't put the rebound where he wanted, and it ended up on O'Reilly's stick.

Video: Ryan O'Reilly does it all in Blues 4-2 Game 4 victory

Allowing a goal 43 seconds into the game is never ideal, but Rask continued to battle, making several quality saves until Tarasenko scored the Blues' second goal just under 14 minutes later. Once again, circumstances limited Rask's ability to put the puck where he wanted off his pads. Alex Pietrangelo dragged the puck around the Bruins defenseman and changed the shot location, forcing Rask to adjust his angle and drop into the shot. In that scenario, given where the puck hit Rask's pad and the close proximity to the net, it's unlikely that he could have put the rebound into a safe spot.

Binnington faced much of the same adversity. Each goal against came directly off a rebound, which often reflects poorly on the goalie. But the Bruins' first goal was tipped on the initial shot, much like the Blues' first goal, and the second was a 2-on-1 where Tarasenko was the last man back attempting to play defense.

If Binnington could be faulted for anything, it was a lack of backward flow on the second goal, where he was left flat-footed after the initial save. He also experienced a degree of back-foot slippage (a term coined by goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who now works for the New York Islanders) when he attempted to push laterally for the second shot. 

Binnington still uses a traditional cowling on his goalie skates. The cowling is the white plastic that used to be on virtually all goalie skates until about two or three seasons ago when most of us switched to skates without cowlings.

The switch occurred for a variety of reasons, the most important being an improved attack angle. What this means is that without the traditional white cowling, we have more clearance between the boot of the skate and the ice when we push off. It may only be an increase of five or 10 degrees, but that little bit can be the difference between a clean push and your skate bottoming out on the plastic and causing slippage, which is what happened to Binnington here.

Video: Binnington resumes his stellar play in a Game 4 win

During the next 20 minutes following the Bruins' second goal, both Rask and Binnington were excellent.

The game-winning goal, once again scored by O'Reilly, might haunt Rask. Though Pietrangelo's initial shot certainly had some steam on it and was headed toward the shoulder, an area of the body that can be somewhat problematic when controlling rebounds, Rask let the puck bounce off his arm directly into the slot, allowing O'Reilly to pounce on the rebound and give the Blues a 3-2 lead.

It's a frustrating position for a goalie. Rask had a very strong game, keeping the Bruins in it while they were almost doubled up in shots once again. Yet one bad rebound changed everything, and that's how tight things are when the two best teams in the world are playing for hockey's ultimate prize. 

It wouldn't be the Stanley Cup Final without drama, and we have it going back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

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