Sun, Jun 09, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Blues capitalize on penalty kills

AP

St Louis Blues player Oskar Sundqvist, left, and Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins vie for position during Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Something is missing from Boston’s power play. The uninterrupted puck movement and cross-ice passes to a wide-open David Pastrnak are not there anymore, Torey Krug is not getting the chance to fire away from the top and Patrice Bergeron is not dominating between the faceoff circles like before.

Boston rode their power-play efforts to a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final, but since then, the St Louis Blues have shut out the most effective power-play unit in more than 30 years and held the Bruins’ best players in check.

The Blues’ power play has been nothing special, but their penalty kill is a major reason behind St Louis winning two straight to earn a chance to claim the first NHL championship in franchise history at home in Game 6 today.

St Louis have gone from being the playoffs’ least-penalized team through three rounds to something else entirely. The Blues are borderline undisciplined, relying on targeted toughness to beat up and disrupt the Bruins.

It is working.

Since allowing six power-play goals early in the final and letting the Bruins go four-for-four on four shots in Game 3, the Blues have made five successful penalty kills.

Suddenly Boston’s most valuable weapon is quiet.

“We’re staying tight to each other,” Blues penalty killer Oskar Sundqvist said. “We’re not letting them pass through the seams and shoot from the top and things like that. We’re making it harder on them and keeping them on the outside. We just need to keep doing the same thing and we’re probably going to be fine if we do that.”

Not just fine. If this keeps up, they could be Stanley Cup champions.

Game 3 was such an eye-opener of how good Boston’s power play is that many wondered wheterh the Bruins were just going to steamroll their way to the series in five games.

However, Sundqvist was suspended that game and goaltender Jordan Binnington has shown serious resolve since then. Blues coach Craig Berube also has made adjustments to counter Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s special teams.

“They really like using seam passes and things like that, and I thought we were tight and doing a good job with our sticks and doing a real good job on our stand at the blue line on their breakouts and breaking plays up,” Berube said.

Boston’s power play had been converting more than 30 percent, on track to be the second-highest all-time for a Cup champion, and was drawing comparisons to the New York Islanders’ 1980s dynasty that featured Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier.

“Back then it was more drop-off, backdoor, overload ... a lot more point shots,” Cassidy said. “Little more low-to-high driven net-on-net, whereas now I think you see a lot more power plays, certainly always the half wall is a big thing, but I would guess more net-front tips, rebounds back then. Now it’s more one-timer, seam passes.”

Krug considers Cassidy to be a power-play mastermind and that will be tested with the Bruins facing elimination for the first time since Game 7 in the first round against Toronto.

“I think in zone, they’ve been tight,” Cassidy said of the Blues. “Either got to stretch them out to get some seams or we got to be less stubborn, then get a net presence and take the shot that’s available with that net presence. Maybe stretch them out off of puck recovery. A little bit is on us to make sure — ‘us,’ the staff — and it’s on the players to make the right decision at the right moment in time.”

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