After an eye-popping first round that made mincemeat out of most people's predictions — we managed to pick just 3 out of 8 first round winners, oops — it felt like all bets were off in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
When the two teams that won the last three Stanley Cups (the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins), the best team in the Western Conference (those high-scoring Calgary Flames), and even the Tampa Bay Lightning (who tied a NHL regular season record for most wins ever) are all gone after the first round, who could predict anything anymore? But sometimes appearances can be misleading.
When the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues hit the ice tonight to open the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, it won't be because the whole NHL suddenly went loopy. Both of these teams really belong.
Big bad Bruins are back
Sure, no one expected Tampa to be eliminated so quickly. But it was known since the start of the season that the Bruins were likely going to be almost as strong as the Lightning. Sure enough, they finished the year tied for second overall in the league.
Once the Bruins got past the Toronto Maple Leafs—in yet another seven game first round nail-biter of a series—they have only looked more and more dominant. They outlasted Columbus in six games, then barely broke a sweat completely outclassing the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.
From worst to warriors
To be fair, St. Louis' appearance can seem a bit flukier. This is a team that was last in the whole league on January 2. Yikes! Make no mistake, their turnaround is an unbelievable story, but it's also not totally out of nowhere.
Kind of like Boston, St. Louis was predicted to be a very good team this season. Their awful start mystified hockey experts. This team is a lot better than they were playing, everyone said. Too bad they let in so many goals...
Then January 7 came. That was when a then-unknown rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington started his first game for the Blues. He was terrific and the team won. Then they won again. And again. And again. Binnington turned out to be all they needed — that "too bad they let in so many goals" team became one of the hardest to score against in hockey.
One last point about how good this team really is. Since January 2, Tampa Bay earned the most points in the league with 64... the most except for St. Louis, who earned 66. That's right—for basically all of 2019, St. Louis have been the best team in the NHL, bar none.
Bruins vs. Blues: Who wins?
Honestly, these two teams are incredibly similar. Want high-end goal snipers? Incredible face-off experts to win the puck? Big-time defense? Both teams are absolutely stacked. And maybe the only goalie in the NHL that is hotter than Binnington is Boston's Tuukka Task, who is an early favourite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the playoff's MVP.
Essentially, the only difference between the two teams? Experience. Boston has tons. They won the Cup in 2011, were in the final in 2013, and have been a contender every year since. They know how to win.
St. Louis has very little. In fact, they are the oldest team without a single Cup. This is their first final appearance since 1970 — 49 years ago. Care to guess who their opponent was back then? Yep! The Boston Bruins.
That year, the Bruins swept the Blues away 4 wins to zero. We don't believe that will happen this year. It will be a tightly contested series that Boston will lead early. But we see the Blues' determination — the same thing that pushed them from the bottom of the league — beating back even the Bruins' grit and know-how. Blues win in six games.
Playoff fever continues!
And if the hardcourt is more your flavour, we haven't forgotten about you. On Thursday, we'll be talking hoops to get you ready for the Raptors-Warriors NBA Final. See you then!