By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins finally found a way to neutralize the Blues’ physical forecheck: they let them have it.
It appears that Bruce Cassidy has decided that the Blues are simply going to win the majority of the puck battles on offense. They have better size than the Bruins, especially with their forwards against the Bruins’ defense. You saw more of it on Sunday in Game 6, when on multiple occasions the Blues caught the B’s with two undersized defenders on the back end and took advantage of it by continuing to grind away and win pucks along the boards.
But this time, the Bruins tried a little something different. It’s as if they said, “We can beat you at your own game, and our goaltender is going to beat your goaltender.” Both things happened and they propelled Bruins to a Game 7 on Wednesday.
How did they beat the Blues at their own game? They packed it in. All of them. At times the centers acted as third defensemen. At all times someone was patrolling the front of the net. The closer the Blues got to Rask, the more the Bruins collapsed.
So that’s why the Blues still ended up with strong numbers in the “high-danger chances” department. The opportunities were there. But it’s difficult to cash in on those chances when you have to fire through a forest of Bruins – sometimes all five of them:
The approach was especially effective at 5-on-5. And although the Bruins didn’t block the most shots of the series (19 in Games 2-3), it was more of a concerted effort in Game 6. Eleven of their 19 blocks came at 5-on-5, mainly because they muddied up the middle of the ice and net-front area.
St. Louis continued to go low-to-high with their forecheckers sending the puck to the point or high slot, which resulted in plenty of chances. But the Bruins didn’t spread out or play a man-to-man style, and stayed disciplined with their net protection. They completely took away the areas that the Blues didn’t occupy, forcing them to play most of their offense on the perimeter. And when shots did get through, Tuukka Rask was there to stop just about all of them.
Can the Bruins ride this strategy one more time in Game 7? Blues head coach Craig Berube is aware of how well the Bruins ‘boxed out’ the Blues with their defensive approach. But it may be a challenge to penetrate such a dense thicket of Bruins defenders when you lack high-end skill beyond Vladimir Tarasenko or Jaden Schwartz. Even Ryan O’Reilly, who has been excellent in the last three games, isn’t someone you’d consider highly skilled.
The Bruins’ bet on Rask to outplay Jordan Binnington, and on their team defense to beat the Blues’ at their own muddy defensive game, paid off handsomely. And now they’re one win away from collapsing their way to a Stanley Cup.
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@example.com.