Three Stanley Cup Finals appearances in the last nine seasons. This time, they’ll be facing the St. Louis Blues fresh off their dismantling of the dream of a Boston/Joe Thornton Final. It will be the third different club they face in the Finals. Even the first time to say they’re definitive favorites.
The NHL will have to settle for the spirited rivalry of David Backes haunting his old club, the Blues, in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Boston made quick work of the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals, employing similar tactics to those used against the skilled but inexperienced Leafs in 2017-18 and now basking in the extended layoff before competing in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in nine seasons.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2010-11 against a determined Vancouver Canucks team, they returned to the Finals in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, losing to Chicago in spectacular fashion. Bryan Bickell scored the game winner at the 18:44 mark of the third period in Game 6 to break a 1-1 tie and hand the Blackhawks the Championship.
There were some lean years in between, with a couple of Round 1 and Round 2 exits, while missing the playoffs outright in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
In 2010-11, they were pushed to elimination in Round 1, requiring an overtime win in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens. They turned that around to win the Cup.
In 2012-13, they were down 4-1 late in the third period in Game 7 against the Leafs only to tie it up and eventually win it in overtime. The Leafs fan in me is still reeling over that collapse (it will forever be ‘it was 4-1’).
The overtime hero in that Game 7? Patrice Bergeron.
The Bruins warrior would play the 2012-13 Finals with a broken rib and a punctured lung (discovered in a hospital visit after Game 6). Bergeron is a bastion of playing hurt that defies logic at times.
To find the first Bruin listed in 5v5 scoring this postseason, you’d have to look outside of the top 10 in scoring (heading into Game 6 of the Blues versus Sharks in the Western Conference Finals).
Even then, Marcus Johansson is the first Bruin to appear, tied with eight points (2-6-8) with David Pastrnak (5-3-8). Krejci and Coyle are tied with seven, and Brad Marchand, six. Danton Heinen, David Backes and Jake DeBrusk all rank higher than Patrice Bergeron and his four points (1-3-4).
At 5v4, Marchand leads playoff scorers with seven points (2-8-10), and Bergeron sits in second (6-1-7), on a whopping 31.6% shooting percentage bender and doubling his individual expected goals (2.94).
His 5v5 scoring this postseason hasn’t been as robust as in previous postseasons, but the most telling stat to me is the IPP (individual points percentage – points earned in on-ice goals scored). Bergeron has earned a point on 44.4% of on-ice goals, the lowest result of this metric in his postseason career.
Bergeron is not meeting his individual expected goals (3.88), having scored only once, while firing a paltry 2.7% - the worst shooting percentage of his postseason career. As a team, the Bruins are firing 7.09% with Bergeron on the ice. The game is made up of contrasts, however, and for the measly scoring production thus far, in goals, Tuukka Rask has posted a sparkling .959 save percentage at 5v5 – the best on-ice save percentage for the veteran pivot.
Partner in Crime
What would Batman be without Robin? The boy wonder resembles the Joker more here, the downright mischievous Brad Marchand and Bergeron are virtually tied to the hip in all situations. They’ve played 441 minutes at 5v5 together, and another 96 at 5v4 over the last three playoffs. The table in the image below is full of detail, so a little explanation is deserved.
The table is split into the partnership between Bergeron and Marchand over the last three playoffs at 5v5, at 5v4 in the middle and this spring (2019) at the bottom. On-ice results are listed in the first line of each category and the last line signifying the Bruins without either player on the ice (off-ice).
Visually, stick to the highlighted cells in the table for the contrasts. In each table compare the first and fourth lines to see the difference in the pairing on/off-ice results. The Bruins are shooting an on-ice shooting percentage of 9.6% while they’re on the ice, and 5.85% without either of them.
The pair tips the scales to Boston’s favor 59.3% of the time, while staking the Bruins scoring pace, with 24 goals in 441 minutes – in 1216 minutes without them on the ice, they’ve scored 34, not even meeting expectations of 38.6 goals (xGF). On the ice, they’ve controlled 58.8% of the expected goals, versus 47.6% when off-ice.
In the middle table, the pairing has 23 goals on 13.9 expected goals, and in half the minutes, they’ve scored eight goals – which is much better than the 3.8 expected goals. They’ve shown how much of a factor they remain at 5v4, leading players in scoring, yet Bergeron has an IPP of 58.3% and generally lagging Marchand – the real drive on the powerplay. With six goals at 5v4, if he wasn’t scoring the actual goal, he doesn’t dominate the play like at 5v5. That’s Marchand’s job.
These playoffs though, the goals have been hard to come by for Bergeron and Marchand at evens. They’ve scored eight, with a 6.78% shooting percentage while on the ice for 205 minutes, a 2.33 goals/60 rate, which coincides with the rest of the Bruins goals/60 (2.12).
The Blues and Bruins play similar 5v5 styles and just like in the Conference Finals, special teams will have a distinct impact on the series. If the Blues can keep Bergeron to his current production at 5v5, and 5v4, while stifling Marchand at 5v4, they may win the battle of special teams and emerge as the Stanley Cup Champions.
But, as they’ve been in this situation before, if Bergeron wakes up at even strength, the scales tip to the Bruins.