The Stanley Cup finals, set to begin Monday, are a rematch 49 years in the making. The Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues will meet for the N.H.L. championship for the first time since 1970, when an overtime, series-winning goal by Boston defenseman Bobby Orr became one of the most memorable moments in hockey history. He was tripped during the shot and flew through the air as the puck entered the net — a statue of Orr scoring that goal stands outside TD Garden, where Game 1 of the finals will be played.
For nearly five decades, the Blues did not return to the finals until now. The Bruins lifted the Cup again in 1972 and 2011, and they have reached the final six other times since 1970, including six years ago.
Over all, the Bruins have won six Stanley Cups; the Blues have never been champions. Their cities have divergent recent sports histories, too. The city of St. Louis last won a pro title in 2011, when the Cardinals became the World Series champions. While 2011 was also the last time the Bruins hoisted the Cup, Boston has the reigning champions in the N.F.L. (the Patriots) and in Major League Baseball (the Red Sox). In the past 20 years, the Patriots and the Red Sox have each won a championship against a St. Louis team.
This season’s Bruins and Blues appear well matched — deep teams that can wear down opponents with consistent pressure and flip a game with offensive outbursts.
“I think the two hardest, heaviest teams are in the final,” San Jose Sharks Coach Peter DeBoer said after the Blues eliminated his team in the Western Conference finals.
He added: “I don’t think it’s an accident. There’s no space. They’re heavy, they’re hard, they’re organized.”
How They Got Here
Boston (49-24-9) finished the regular season with the second-best record in the N.H.L., behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round before toppling the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had swept the Lightning, in six games in the second round. The Bruins then swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference finals, scoring 17 goals while Boston goalie Tuukka Rask allowed only five. The Bruins have won seven straight games heading into the Stanley Cup finals and have outscored their opponents, 28-9, during the streak. In their 12 victories this postseason, they have posted a staggering 50 goals.
St. Louis (45-28-9), which had the N.H.L.’s worst record as late as Jan. 3, established itself as a contender with a six-game win over the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1. The Blues fell behind, three games to two, in Round 2 against Dallas and needed a double-overtime victory in Game 7 to advance. In the conference finals against San Jose, the Blues were down, two games to one, after a disputed Game 3 overtime goal. The officiating crew missed an apparent hand pass that led to the Sharks’ game-winner. Undaunted, the Blues strung together three victories in which they outscored the Sharks, 12-2, as the rookie goalie Jordan Binnington saved 75 of the 77 shots he faced.
Both coaches traveled a bumpy road to the finals. Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy, who as a boy in Ottawa had the photo of Orr flying through the air during the 1970 finals on his bedroom wall, had a promising playing career derailed by knee injuries. That led him to minor league coaching jobs with now-defunct teams like the Jacksonville Lizard Kings and the Indianapolis Ice.
He got the head coaching job with the Washington Capitals in 2002, only to be dismissed after a year and a half, just before the team drafted Alex Ovechkin. He was on the Blackhawks’ staff and was let go just before they added Jonathan Toews and then Patrick Kane. Twelve years would pass between his first N.H.L. coaching job and his second, when the Bruins parted ways with Claude Julien and promoted Cassidy from their minor league affiliate in Providence. In 2017-18, he was a finalist for the coach of the year award.
Blues Coach Craig Berube played in more than 1,000 games and racked up over 3,000 penalty minutes as an enforcer. He ranks seventh in N.H.L. career penalty minutes, and he played in the finals once, when his Capitals were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. As a coach, Berube had various roles in the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization, most notably as their head coach for two seasons, the peak of which was a seven-game, first-round loss to the Rangers in 2014.
He was the associate coach for the Blues before he became the interim head coach in November, replacing Mike Yeo. Berube is a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy, the league’s coach of the year award, and would be the seventh coach to step in during the season and win a championship, but the fourth since 2009. Berube is of Cree descent and, if the Blues prevail, would become the only First Nations coach to win the Stanley Cup.
Goalies in the Spotlight
Rask has been the Bruins’ top performer in the playoffs and is a favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason most valuable player, if the Bruins defeat St. Louis. Rask’s 1.84 goals-against average, .942 save percentage, 12 wins and two shutouts are all league bests.
Binnington steadied the Blues with preternatural poise for a rookie, particularly one who had limited prospects of reaching the N.H.L. at the start of the season. He is now a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. His 12 postseason victories are already a franchise record.
The Bruins have been a fixture in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and five players remain from their 2011 championship roster. Those five still play significant roles, including Rask, who was the backup in 2011 and the starter for the 2013 finalists. Defenseman Zdeno Chara, 42, has been the team captain since 2006. His plus-11 rating is the N.H.L.’s best in the postseason.
Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are two-thirds of one of the best lines in hockey, completed by David Pastrnak, whom the Bruins drafted in 2014. Marchand is the only player active past the second round who has more than a point per game in the playoffs; Bergeron and Pastrnak have combined for 28 points. Center David Krejci, who has twice led the N.H.L. in postseason scoring, has fueled Boston’s second line with 14 points in 17 games.
The Blues still have 10 skaters and their backup goalie from the team that reached the 2016 conference finals. That includes Alex Pietrangelo, their captain, and Colton Parayko, who have combined for 24 points,the second-highest total for two defensemen on one team this postseason. Only one player on the roster, forward David Perron, has finals experience — last year with the Vegas Golden Knights, who lost to Washington.
Numbers to Watch
The Blues have had a penchant for early goals. They scored 35 seconds into Game 4 and 92 seconds into Game 6 against the Sharks. They have scored in the opening two minutes of a game five times during these playoffs, and won all five of those games. They scored first in each of their four wins against San Jose.
The Bruins, led by Cassidy, have the postseason’s best combined special teams performance. They are No. 1 with a 34 percent conversion rate on the power play, and they have the best penalty-kill percentage of any team that advanced past the second round. Their power play has done an about-face: After squandering 18 consecutive opportunities, they scored with a man advantage in each of their last four games.
Wing Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues’ leading goal scorer, got off to a slow start in the playoffs, with only five points in their first two series. But he exploded for eight points in the conference finals. He still trails Jaden Schwartz for the team lead in postseason goals and points, thanks, in large part, to two hat tricks by Schwartz.
(Best-of-7; x-if necessary)
Game 1: Monday at Boston, 8 p.m., NBC
Game 2: Wednesday at Boston, 8 p.m., NBCSN
Game 3: Saturday at St. Louis, 8 p.m., NBCSN
Game 4: Monday, June 3, at St. Louis, 8 p.m., NBC
x-Game 5: Thursday, June 6, at Boston, 8 p.m., NBC
x-Game 6: Sunday, June 9, at St. Louis, 8 p.m., NBC
x-Game 7: Wednesday, June 12, at Boston, 8 p.m., NBC