If the entirety of your sports knowledge doesn’t reach farther back than ESPN SportsCenter, you may not realize that the Vegas Golden Knights were NOT the first team to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in the first season of their existence.
I must admit being around in 1968 when the fledgling St. Louis Blues, one of six teams added to the National Hockey League at once, went to the Finals as a first-year expansion club, but then again, SOME first-year expansion team had to get there, since someone in the NHL office, in their infinite wisdom, decided that in order to bolster interest in the new “Western Division,” which included such western outposts as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it would not only be a grand idea to have four of the expansion teams make the playoffs, but for one of them to be playing for the Stanley Cup.
The Blues got to the final round on the strength of the Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, left unprotected in the expansion draft by Chicago but still plenty sharp enough to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, even with a losing team. St. Louis got swept by the Montreal Canadiens, but they were competitive to be certain, losing those four games by only a single goal. Hall was joined the next season by another Hall of Fame goalie, Jacques Plante, who came out of retirement to help the Blues get to the Stanley Cup Finals the next two seasons as well.
However, those appearances all resulted in 4-0 sweeps, so this franchise never won a game in the Finals until this season.
Now they can win it all.
But they will have to rebound from what might best be termed as a moribund performance in Game 6, as the Boston Bruins did an “I’m your daddy” all over them to the tune of 5-1, forcing a Game 7 at the TD Garden. The first puck drops at 8:05 PM ET on NBC, and these are the lines as of Wednesday morning, with the Bruins favored:
Boston Bruins -165
St. Louis Blues +155
Bruins -1.5 Goals +175
Blues +1.5 Goals -190
Under 5.5 Goals -145
Over 5.5 Goals +135
Those odds are infused with reduced juice at BetAnySports, so the numbers definitely tighten up, as you can see. It is the most value-added deal in the online sportsbook industry, so take advantage of it by going to the website.
Okay, let’s mention a few things first. The home team has won 12 out of 16 times when there has been a Game 7. But at the same time, over the last fifteen seasons, that percentage has been less than 53%. And while the Bruins aren’t necessarily feasting on the home ice “advantage” during this post-season, the Blues are 9-3 on the road. That includes two win at the TD Garden. So I wouldn’t be rushing up to the windows to play this based on the venue.
Most observers would agree that the Blues are formidable, perhaps even imposing, when they are on the forecheck, playing a physical game and taking no prisoners. For whatever reason, they seemed to stray from that in Game 6, when they could have wrapped things up at the Enterprise Center. They tried to “finesse” things too much, and that’s a little more the Bruins’ game. And once they were struggling early, that opened up all kinds of possibilities for Boston.
The Bruins have been propelled throughout the playoffs by goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has posted a .925 save percentage in these finals, just a wee bit off his pace coming into this series but sizzling nonetheless, to the extent that there is a growing constituency that would vote him the Conn Smythe winner even of the Bruins didn’t come away with a victory on Wednesday.
Surely Boston could use more production out of its #1 line. For what it’s worth, during the regular season, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak averaged 1.27, 1.21 and 1.23 points per game respectively, but here in the Stanley Cup Finals (albeit in an admittedly small sample size), those numbers are 0.83, 0.50 and 0.66.
But look – St. Louis has been concentrating on bottling up the big guns defensively, and they are making the Bruins work extra hard to get it out of their own zone. At the same time, we’ve got Rask, who’s been pretty tough to penetrate.
And that brings us to the total. Yeah, we know you’re going to tell us that in these finals, four of the six games have gone over the total. But we’re here to tell you that this is the exception rather then the rule. In fact, when you get to this round, the “under” has hit better than 60% of the time over the last fifteen seasons.
And when you get to the all-or-nothing game, things tend to tighten up even further. It would seem to make sense that the referees are going to be careful not to turn a deciding game around on one blow of a whistle, and the numbers over a thirty-year period would seem to bear that out, as there have been 45% fewer penalty minutes called in Game 7 on average than in any of the other games in the series. Fewer penalties means fewer power plays, and, over the course of time, fewer prime scoring opportunities.
Would you like to know how long it’s been since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals produced more than five goals? It was 1950, before something called the Korean War broke out.
They didn’t cover that one on SportsCenter.
Six goals or more didn’t happen before that and hasn’t happened since (sample size = 16).
So with two excellent defensive teams and everything on the line, will we see a style of game that prompts me to look “under”?
You bet. I bet.
Let’s all bet.
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