Happy Memorial Day everyone! As the season comes to an end, there are only a few things worth writing about. This edition of Blake’s Takes will feature all Stanley Cup content with a little bit of the World Championships mixed in.
1. The Stanley Cups Final: St. Louis vs Boston
Our 2019 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set. The Boston Bruins will represent the Eastern Conference for the third time in the past ten years. The Bruins will try to win their seventh Stanley Cup championship and first since 2011. Many of their best players were also members of the 2011 team, most notably, captain, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci.
For the Blues, this will be their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1970, where they were swept by Boston. The Blues have been to the Stanley Cup Finals three times in franchise history, all three in their first three years of existence, and were swept each time. They are led by a rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington and depth on the blueline.
My first thoughts on this series are that we will see some great goaltending. Bruins’ goalie, Tuukka Rask, has been the best goaltender by far this postseason. Rask boasts a 12-5 record, with a 1.82 GAA, a .942 sv%, and two shutouts. Those are monster numbers. A hot goalie can make or break a team in the playoffs. See Jonathan Quick in the 2012 playoffs. The Bruins are a world-beater when Rask is at his worst, so they look unstoppable now that he is playing at his best.
Binnington has been no slouch for St. Louis. He is 12-7, with a 2.36 GAA, a .914 sv%, and one shutout. They are amazing numbers too, but compared to Rask they are human. If Binnington continues his impressive play, the Bruins need to hope that Rask can too.
Overall, I believe the Bruins have too much firepower for the Blues to handle. Although the Blues have great depth on defense, they will be overmatched by the Bruins top forward line.
My prediction: the Bruins will beat the Blues in six games.
2. Conn Smythe Update
Now that the Stanley Cup Final is upon us, there is a maximum of seven more games to be played these playoffs. That means we have a pretty clear outlook of who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. I have highlighted the four players I think have the best chance to do so.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Goalie
Each week I have written about how Rask has been the best player in these playoffs. That continues to be true. He has only improved as the playoffs have gone on. The Conn Smythe is his award to lose as of right now. I don’t see him playing badly enough where the Bruins win in spite of him. The only question now is who had the better cup run, Rask or Tim Thomas in 2011.
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins, Left Wing
Despite all his antics and slow start, Marchand has been a beast this postseason. He has been the best skater on the ice in every game he has played in since the second round began and leads the team in points. Without him, Boston’s first line may have never got their mojo going and might not have beaten Columbus in the second round. I think Marchand’s only shot to win the Conn Smythe is if the series goes seven games, Rask looks bad, and he goes supernova. The odds of those things happening are slim, but Marchand has solidified himself as a top playoff performer.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues, Goalie
This kid feels zero pressure, especially for a 25-year-old rookie in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The only time I saw him show any emotion was after Erik Karlsson’s overtime goal that should have been waived off due to a hand pass. Other than that, Binnington is cool as ice. If St. Louis wins this series, Binnington will have to play his best series yet. If he does, the Conn Smythe will no doubt be awarded to him.
Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues Center
Stats: 12 goals, four assists, 16 points, +6, 2 GWG
Schwartz has been a revelation this postseason and is playing the best hockey of his career. He leads a team with plenty of scoring talent in goals and points. The Conn Smythe is usually won by a superstar or hot goaltender, never a role player. Schwartz looks to have a real shot to win as he has scored one big goal after another for St. Louis. Similar to Marchand, if the goalie behind him plays bad and the Blues win, Schwartz should be awarded the Conn Smythe.
3. Boston Legacies
Legacies tend to change after teams win the Stanley Cup. Good players can become great players, Great players can become legends. Here are a few Bruins who can make the biggest impact on their legacy if they help their team win the Cup.
Back to Rask, who no doubt has left his mark all over this Cup run. Everyone has weighed in on his perceived past playoff struggles. Had the Bruins beat the Blackhawks in the 2013 Cup Final, Rask would have been hailed as a great playoff performer and one of the league’s best goaltenders. Instead, the narrative says Rask is a good regular-season goaltender that struggles in the playoffs. I think this narrative has gone way too far, especially considering Rask played great in the 2013 playoffs and won a Vezina trophy the year after. If the Bruins end up winning the Cup, Rask’s run will go down as one of the best postseason runs of any goaltender of all time. It will be right up there with Tim Thomas’s run of 2011 and Jonathan Quick’s run of 2012. The playoff demons will have been slain and Rask’s will be a legend in Boston.
Backes is in a peculiar spot. He is playing in his first Stanley Cup Final against the team he captained for ten years after having left them in free agency in 2016. Backes is no longer the player he was in St. Louis and hasn’t contributed much this postseason. Most think he should have stayed in St. Louis and finished his career there. If the Bruins are victorious, his decision will have been validated and one of the better players of his generation will have a Stanley Cup ring. Backes’ legacy also has the most to lose this postseason. If Boston loses, the narrative will be that he left the Blues to win a Cup, only to be defeated by the team he abandoned. For Backes’ sake, he better pray extra hard the Bruins win.
4. St. Louis Legacies
Similar to the last section, there are many players on the Blues that have their legacies on the line — a few more interesting than most.
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but there are only a few big storylines in this Cup Final and both goaltenders play heavily into them. Binnington is the Blues’ talisman. The Blues were at the bottom of the league when he broke into the lineup and couldn’t find a way to win. Of the 51 games he has played in since being called up, the Blues have won 36 of them. He represents and is the main reason for the Blues dramatic turnaround. If the Blues win it all, Binnington will cap off one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time. Lastly, he will be a UFA this offseason. Every game the Blues win just adds more money into his pocket. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation like this where a rookie on an expiring contract has put together a run like this. Thankfully for Binnington, he will receive a hefty raise regardless of the outcome of the Cup Final.
Pietrangelo was drafted by the Blues as the fourth-overall pick back in 2008. He has been through all of their ups and downs yet has remained a steady, stay at home defenseman through it all. Most casual fans probably can’t even spell his name correctly. If the Blues defeat the Bruins, the story of Pietrangelo could change for good, from unknown defenseman to borderline Hall of Famer. Here are his career accomplishments:
• Three seasons with 50+ points
• 2x All-Star Second Team
• 1x All-Star
• 1x Olympic Gold Medal
• 1x World Cup of Hockey Winner
• 1x World Junior Gold Medal
• 1x World Junior Silver Medal
Imagine adding captain of a Stanley Cup team to that resume. If the Blues do win, that will force many hockey critics to reevaluate Pietrangelo’s career.
Similar to Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester has quietly been one of the best defenseman in the NHL for more than a decade. A Stanley Cup victory could provoke people to consider him a borderline Hall of Famer too. Bouwmeester doesn’t stuff the stat sheet but is he damn good defensively. He has quite an impressive resume as well.
• 2x NHL All-Star
• 2x World Championship Gold Medal
• 2x World Junior Championship Bronze Medal
• 2x World Cup of Hockey/Canada Cup Winner
• 1x Olympic Gold Medal
• 1x World Championship Silver Medal
• 1x World Junior Championship Silver Medal
• 1x World Championship Best Defenseman
• 1x World Championship All-Star Team
• All-Rookie Team
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Bouwmeester is the only player left in these playoffs who could become the newest member of hockey’s Triple Gold Club as the last award he needs to qualify is the Stanley Cup. That would force people to look at his legacy in a new light.
5. Finland Wins the Worlds
Sunday marked the conclusion of the 2019 World Championships. All eyes in this tournament were on the projected top two picks in this summer’s draft, American center Jack Hughes and Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko. If a rivalry blooms between these two like it did between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, than I declare Kakko the winner of round one after his Finland team won gold. The Fins defeated Canada 3-1 in the gold medal game to win their first World Championship gold since 2011.
This tournament was stacked with great teams with high powered offenses. Russia, Sweden, and Canada all looked to be head and shoulders above the other nations. Finland proved that they deserved to win it all after beating all three teams in succession, knocking off Sweden in the first round of the group stage, Russia in the semifinal, and Canada in the final. It’s too bad the World Championships aren’t a big deal to most North American hockey fans because this Finland team went through the gauntlet for one of the most impressive gold medal runs I’ve ever seen. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.