Missed passes, blocked shots and outstanding saves from Tuukka Rask have defined the St. Louis Blues’ power play thus far in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
Going into Sunday’s Game 6, where the Blues had the chance to clinch the franchise’s first title, they had gone just 1-for-14 on the man advantage. Although they’d managed to take the series lead without much success up a man, they would have to capitalize on every opportunity to secure the title on home ice. Unfortunately, St. Louis couldn’t convert on four power plays, which could have made all the difference in a 5-1 defeat that forced a Game 7 back in Boston on Wednesday.
Now, with the Blues’ backs up against the walls, they know they can’t leave any stone left unturned as they lay it all on the line.
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“Whoever goes out there has to execute,” Jaden Schwartz bluntly told reporters Monday. “We know it has to be better. Comes down to one game.”
The Blues last scored a power-play goal in their 7-2 loss in Game 2, when Colton Parayko fired a shot from the point that went off Brandon Carlo and past Rask in the third period. Even then, it wasn’t a set play that really helped take things off; instead, it was a matter of getting pucks on net.
That’s what started to come together again for St. Louis on Sunday; rather than focusing on set plays or connected passes, they did what they could, focusing mainly on getting shots away. Although it didn’t translate to a goal, it got them closer than they had been in previous matchups.
“Last night was a lot better, simplified,” Alex Pietrangelo said.
The Blues’ power play has been somewhat of an Achilles’ Heel for the entirety of the playoffs and the Bruins’ penalty kill that has truly pushed them to the brink. Not only are they reading the Blues well, taking away their shooting and passing lanes, taking the puck away and blocking shots, but they’re also able to limit the time and space that St. Louis has to work with.
Schwartz explained another factor that has come into play is Boston’s ability to box the Blues out with ease. Forcing St. Louis to change the way they run the power play.
“Getting the puck through to start the power play is good. Get them running around a little bit, just execute,” Schwartz said. “Making tape-to-tape passes, moving, getting guys low, moving it high again. I think when we’re stagnant, standing still and passing it, we’re not really moving their box around.”
Beyond the Bruins’ four penalty killers and their top-two units, Boston has another weapon in Rask. Win or lose, he’s likely the Conn Smythe winner given his performance through these playoffs; his numbers speak for himself as he boasts a 1.93 GAA and .938 save percentage through these playoffs.
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The Blues have created more pressure by having players like Ryan O’Reilly and Patrick Maroon screen Rask in front and get in the crease. They also did a better job of getting as many shots as they could on net in Game 6, but for Game 7, St. Louis needs to completely adopt the crash-the-net mentality if they want to put their demons behind them and take home the Cup.
“On the power play, shooting for the rebounds, shooting for guys getting to the net, being around the net, finding some dirty goals around there… that’s definitely in the back of our minds for sure,” Craig Berube said in regards to improving on the man advantage.
The Blues could start experimenting and shuffle up the power-play units. Schwartz knows it’ll take more than some rearranging to get the job done, but believes that it’s just a matter of giving it a full effort and that come Wednesday, the Blues will be ready.
“…At a time like this, I think it’s just getting pucks to the net, taking their outsides away. I think we’re doing a decent job of getting in the zone. We have to get more bodies to get on the same page,” Schwartz said.
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