Blake’s Takes: Boston Forces Game 7

Last week was a big one for the hockey community. We saw another missed call in a major moment as well as the Bruins push the series to a Game 7. I dive deep into the Conn Smythe race as well as how the Bruins won Game 6. The one bit of news outside of Boston and St. Louis comes from Buffalo as one of the game’s best players is much richer.

1. Another Blown Call

Game 5 was the NHL’s worst nightmare. With the Blues up 1-0 in the middle of the third period, the Blues had the puck deep in the Bruins zone. Tyler Bozak tripped Bruins’ forward Noel Acciari. A penalty was not called on the Blues and David Perron scored right after to put the them up 2-0. The Bruins went on to score once and the Blues won the game 2-1.

This is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. The officials missed an easy call that wound up being the difference in the game. The trip was so obvious that Bozak’s body language showed that he assumed he would be called for a penalty and was ready to head to the box. He didn’t even bother to argue. Unfortunately for the Bruins, judgment calls can’t be challenged and it cost them the game. This could have been karma for the Blues after they got screwed over on Timo Meier’s hand pass in the Conference Finals.

The NHL NEEDS to do something about these missed calls in the playoffs. I understand that being an official is impossibly difficult and the game moves at a high speed. But the fact is that there have been a plethora of game-changing calls missed by officials this postseason. So much so the narrative of these playoffs will be the officiating and not the play on the ice by both teams.

The NHL needs to implement a rule similar to the NFL where all scoring plays are reviewed. How that would work I’m not sure. I would suggest a policy where all goals would be reviewed in Toronto. The video crew would review each goal. If a call was missed from the time the attacking team entered the zone and the goal being scored, the goal could be overturned. Obviously, the rule would need to be more fine-tuned than that, but it’s a start. The NHL cannot allow officiating to dominate the postseason again or else it will seriously alienate their fanbase.

2. We Have One Last Game 7

Brad Marchand [Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky]
The score doesn’t reflect how close Game 6 was for its majority. Halfway through the first, the Bruins wound up on a 5-3 power play. Ryan O’Reilly took a bad penalty with a man down and the B’s power play went to work. Torey Krug and David Pastrnak dished the puck around until Pastrnak found Brad Marchand for the game’s opening goal. This was a massive goal for Boston and they didn’t look back. All the credit to the Blues because they held their own until the third period.

It wasn’t until the middle of the third period where St. Louis cracked again. Jordan Binnington let up a bouncer to Brandon Carlo which solidified the Bruins’ lead. After that, Karson Kuhlman made it 3-0. O’Reilly added one more goal with 12:01 left in the third to give the Blues a lifeline. Sean Kuraly caused a turnover in the St. Louis zone which led to the Bruins fourth goal. Zdeno Chara added the Bruins fifth and final goal with the net empty.

The Bruins did what they do best. They dominated St. Louis physically and scored on the power play. Kuhlman and Kuraly were flying around everywhere tonight and made a ton of great plays for Boston. The Bruins’ fourth goal was a result of Kuraly’s hustle and energy. Let’s not forget about Tuukka Rask, who shut the door on St. Louis and proved that this is still the Postseason of Rask. 

Game 7 will be on Wednesday in Boston and will decide this year’s Stanley Cup champion. Let’s go!

3. Conn Smythe Update

With one game left in the Stanley Cup finals, the Conn Smythe race has been narrowed down to a few final candidates. I have ranked my top five options below, from least to most deserving.

5. Brad Marchand

Marchand has had a very strong but inconsistent playoff. There have been stretches where he, and his linemates, have seemed to disappear. He hasn’t dominated like many expected. That being said, he still leads all skaters with 23 playoff points, with 9 goals and 14 assists. Although inconsistent, Marchand is still Marchand. Pestering the hell out of the opponent and scoring enough to back it up. Unless he has a hat trick in Game 7, I don’t think he wins the Conn Smythe.

4. Jordan Binnington

Binnington is the most difficult to place on this list. I have said it 100 times over the last few weeks but he is obviously the main factor as to why the Blues turned their season around. He is a 25-year-old rookie who has put the Blues on his back all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He has had a great playoff going 15-10, with a 2.52 GAA, .911 sv% and one shutout. Those are very good numbers.

It just doesn’t feel as though Binnington has been as dominant over the course of the Cup Finals as he was during the first three rounds. That isn’t uncommon, many players tend to slow down over the course of long Cup Final. Mostly because teams lock on to a player’s tendencies and the teams are more evenly matched. He has allowed four-plus goals in a game twice during this series after only doing it four times in the first three rounds combined. I do believe that if the Blues shutout the Bruins in Game 7, Binnington will walk away with the Conn Smythe.

3. Ryan O’Reilly

O’Reilly has stepped up his game during this Cup Final. After scoring 14 points in 19 games during the first three rounds, he has scored seven points in six games against Boston. He has been fantastic defensively and has helped kill penalties. His 21 playoff points put him in second to Marchand. If he scores a goal in Game 7 and the Bruins win, that will be enough to win the award.

2. Torey Krug

I love Krug. He has been a monster these playoffs and no doubt THE defenseman. It’s no secret the Bruins win games because of their lethal power play, and Krug is the primary reason for that. He is the quarterback of the Bruins’ PP unit and everything runs through him. Boston is first among all playoff teams in PP%, converting on 33% of their opportunities. Krug is tied with Marchand for first in powerplay points with 11 and is tied for fifth among all skaters in playoff points with 18. He is first among defenseman in both categories. His defense has been fantastic and he has helped shutout the Blues’ offense when he has been on the ice. Krug has elevated his game during this series and I think a statement in Game 7 could push him past my top pick to win the Conn Smythe right now.

1. Tuukka Rask

After Rask’s performance in Game 6, there isn’t much more than needs to be said. Consider his playoff demons to be slain and his status as an elite goaltender to be restored. He has been the backbone the Bruins have needed on nights where their scoring hasn’t been there. He has bailed them out countless times and has stood on his head to make big saves. The numbers are overwhelmingly fantastic and he has no doubt been the best player during this postseason. He is 15-8 with a 1.93 GAA, .938 sv%, and two shutouts. If the Bruins win a low scoring game, I don’t think there is a chance Rask doesn’t win this award.

4. Brett Hull is on One

If you tuned into the very beginning of Game 6, a few Blues’ alumni got together to lead a “Let’s Go Blues” chant for the crowd. The screen showed St. Louis’ legends, Bob Plager, Brett Hull, and Bernie Federko. As Plager started leading the chant, he leaned into Hull as if he wanted Hull to join him. Hull was clearly sauced and had no idea how to react. He looked like he wanted to give Plager a high five and then wanted to take the microphone. He then drunkenly screamed, “Bernie Federko, the greatest of all time!” into the mic. It was an awesome moment. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a member of a team’s front office so clearly drunk at MULTIPLE games, much less a playoff game. Hull was also drunk during Game 4. He led the crowd in a pregame chant and give a middle finger to the Bruins. Hull is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs. I hope other front office members follow his lead and pound a few beers before big games. Hell, I hope they get drunk at every game and start giving interviews. That would make the postgame a bit more exciting.

5. Skinner Gets Paid

[Photo Credit: NHL]
The Buffalo Sabres finally paid Jeff Skinner. The two sides agreed to an 8-year/$72 million contract. I have mixed emotions on this deal and I’ll start with the good.

The Good: 40-goal-scorers are VERY difficult to find through the draft and free agency. Buffalo did what they had to do and locked in Skinner long-term. Skinner is still very young and will be 35-years-old when his contract expires. That is great for Buffalo has he should be able to perform at a high-level for the entirety of his contract. Skinner is coming off his best year as a pro, scoring a career-high 40 goals and tied a career-high with 63 points. This will give Buffalo room to build around their young core of Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Rasmus Dhalin. Even if Skinner only scores between 25-35 goals each year of the contract, that is still really good production.

The Bad: Skinner is now one of the most expensive players in the league and is tied for 12th with a $9 million AAV. The guys who make more are the following: Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Carey Price, Williams Nylander, Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Jamie Benn, and he is tied with P.K. Subban. I think it’s safe to say he is the worst among those guys. What about the guys who make slightly less? Here are the ten most-expensive players who make less than Skinner: Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Lundqvist, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Ryan Getzlaf, and John Carlson. It’s safe to say Skinner is better than Getzlaf and Perry, if not a few others guys on that list.

Skinner just finished his ninth year in the league and has only scored 30-plus goals four times and has only cracked the 60-goal plateau three times. That’s not great for a guy that is now making $9 million a year.

The Sabres better hope that Skinner has really turned the corner and can reach the 40-goal plateau at least four to five more times over the course of this contract. Obviously, if he helps the Sabres win it will all be worth it. But, the Sabres still have major needs to fill if they plan on competing in the stacked Atlantic division. Paying Skinner all that money will hurt their flexibility to do so. Overall, the Sabres had no choice but to make this deal with Skinner. They are finally ready to end their rebuild and compete for the playoffs. It would look really bad if they promised to compete and let a 40-goal scorer walk. My prediction is that Buffalo has a three-to-five year window to get the right pieces around Skinner. If they can’t do that, they are going to be looking at a Brent Seabrook-like albatross of a contract that no one wants. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. ■

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.

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