By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The first two games of the Stanley Cup Final showed why hockey can be as much of a chess match as any sport. The Bruins found a way to exploit the Blues' big-bodied defenders for most of Game 1, but St. Louis found a way to re-adjust to that in Game 2.
It's Bruce Cassidy's move again.
Bruins forwards had significantly more trouble with their approach in Game 2 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. It was basically the same as Game 1, but this time the Blues had an answer. Cassidy explained to reporters on Tuesday that the B's found success by using their speed to drive to the outside against the Blues' defensemen, who while big aren't particularly agile. They got them turning and thus chasing.
Game 2 was a different story. The Blues spent a lot of Game 1 backpedaling, giving the Bruins' forecheckers too much space. This time they stepped up and stayed square, closing quickly and using their sticks when necessary. As a result, the Bruins could barely ever get behind them and get their forecheck going.
One of the most glaring examples of the effectiveness of the Blues defense came in the second period, when it led directly to one of Brad Marchand's several mental errors. As Marchand streaked down the left side, Colton Parayko kept the winger in front of him and suffocated his space along the half boards. Marchand resorted to a no-look drop-pass with nobody there, turning it over and sending the Blues' rush the other way.
"They played hard, they made it tough for us to get to the front of the net and get on a rebound and [they were] clearing us out in front," said Charlie Coyle, one of the only Bruins forwards who found daylight on a semi-regular basis. "We need that work ethic and that will to get those pucks and those second and third chances, because that's what it takes. That's playoff hockey and that's what we need."
That's the beauty of playoff hockey - from a Blues perspective, anyway. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs you can win games because you wanted the win more than the other guys. You can win with toughness and effort and smarts, particularly if you have a less skilled team than your opponent.
The Blues are in exactly that position. It mirrors the 2010-11 Bruins, who conquered the dynamic Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Cup Final with defense and physicality that bolstered Tim Thomas' lights-out goaltending.
If they can get similar heroics from Jordan Binnington and continue to grind Bruins rushes to a halt, they'll give themselves a good chance to win the series.
But this is also a game of adjustments. Goes back to the chess match thing. Rushing to the outside isn't going to work for the Bruins anymore. So how about getting back to winning the slot battle, which has often spearheaded the Bruins' approach at both ends?
The Bruins are still commanding the slot defensively. Despite three of the Blues' five goals coming from the slot area, they were all predicated on egregious mental errors by the Bruins. How much can they really score without David Pastrnak sending a blind pass behind the net to the other team, or Marchand losing his man in the high slot in Game 1 then over-committing to the wrong guy on a 2-on-2 and giving up on the play in Game 2?
Boston won't reassert itself in this series unless those mistakes disappear and the best adjustments come from the No. 1 line. Cassidy is expecting that to happen as soon as Game 3 on Saturday.
“They’ve always found their game, they don’t usually go very long without being a factor - I don’t imagine that’ll change," Cassidy told reporters on Thursday. "I suspect in Game 3 we’ll see their best game of the series. Until that happens that’s kind of speculation, but that’s what I suspect will happen."
Ultimately, the biggest difference in Game 2 was at the Blues' defensive end, where they readjusted to outstanding effect and it left the Bruins dumbfounded for most of Game 2. The good news is, Cassidy has proven able to adjust on the fly before. Adjustments could come in the form of exploiting the middle of the ice more. At some point, the Bruins' speed and skill needs to take over for them to regain and maintain control of the series - especially from the top line.
But that adjustment starts with the coach. It's time to see how Cassidy sets up his next moves.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].