Before we let you read the article, we want to thank the author of it. Namely, Johnny Camponovo. Johhny is a Ticinese student and a huge hockey passionate who shares our philosophy. He’s our new collaborator and a very competent person. We thank him a lot. We truly appreciated his first piece and we’re sure you’ll appreciate it as well.
To begin with, right thanks to Johnny, starting from today Leading Sport has a new section called “NHL Corner”. A section in which we talk about the most prestigious ice hockey league of the world. And to begin with, what’s better than start from the end? That is, from the analysis of the Stanley Cup final!
Welcome to our small Leading Sport family, Johnny 🙂
Damiano Cansani, Barbara Kurdziel
ANALYSIS OF THE STANLEY CUP FINAL
Author: Johnny Camponovo
Welcome to the first article of the Leading-Sport’s NHL Corner, a column dedicated to North American ice hockey!
There could be no better way to introduce this new section… in fact, we’ll be talking about the most important ice hockey event overseas: the Stanley Cup final. The series that decreed the Stanley Cup Champions and is played between the Eastern Conference winners and the Western Conference winners. The trophy’s name is in honor of Lord Frederick Stanley, who was the Governor of Canada and that back in 1892 donated a very expensive trophy to the winners of the young NHL.
The 2019 edition saw the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues facing each other.
In this piece, we’ll introduce the two teams with their strengths and the way they made it to the final. Then, we’ll compare the two teams numbers during the playoffs and finally we’ll analyze why the St. Louis Blues lifted the coveted trophy.
Boston Bruins – A playoffs machine
The Massachusetts’ based side needs no presentation. The Bruins won 6 Stanley Cups in their history (the last one in 2011) and are one of the most successful team of the last decades. They made it to the playoffs 44 times in the last 51 years and that’s an impressive record considering the number of NHL teams and the difficulties that also the best sides have in order to make it to the post-season! The Boston Bruins, moreover, hold the record of post-season’s games played from 1968 (year of the expansion of the league); they played 471 of them. This franchise is a real playoffs machine! Suffice it to think, in this regard, that the Captain Zdeno Chara played 14 games-7 and the Bruins played as many as 27 in their history. Finally, this team’s experience is evidenced also by the fact that 21 different players scored at least a goal during this 2018-19 playoffs, and this is another league’s record.
- Firstly the Bruins got rid of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the quarterfinals stage in 7 games.
- Then they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets (Dean Kukan’s team) in 6 games at the semifinals stage.
- After that, they had a walk in the park against the Carolina Hurricanes as they won the Conference final in 4 games.
- Finally, they lost at game-7 the Stanley Cup final against St. Louis.
Let’s see the Bruins strengths during the playoffs:
Power-play and Penalty-killing
Well, it’s every coach and fan’s dream to have a team effective during power-play situations and excellent penalty-killer. Just like Boston. The figures are impressive (32.4% power-play efficiency and 88.4% penalty-killing efficiency). When you are able to score a power-play goal every three power-play opportunities and when you don’t concede a goal in 9 penalty-killing situations out of 10… well, it’s a great advantage. During the last 14 playoffs’ games, Boston didn’t concede a goal in 39 penalty-killing situations out of 41. The power-play efficiency, however, decreased during the final (see later in the article) but helped Boston to make it all the way to game-7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Tuuka Raaks is a 32 years old Finn and literally drove the opponents nuts during the playoffs thanks to his excellent performances. He had a 93.4% saving percentage and that’s a new NHL record. Rask had a 90% or higher saving percentage in 23 games with Boston. That’s impressive. He rarely concedes rebounds and this is crucial.
St. Louis Blues – An unexpected final and an even more unexpected win
Also the St. Louis Blues are quite accustumed to makeing it to the playoffs. They’re second placed (behind Boston) for number of post-seasons played from 1967-68 (year of their foundation). They made it 42 times to the post seasons and played a total of 390 games. However, they never lifted the Stanley Cup. Their only Stanley Cup final before this year dated back to 1970… when they lost it against… the Boston Bruins! This year though, not only was the win unexpected… in fact, the fact alone to make it to the playoffs looked impossible at some point. Suffice it to think that back on January 4th, 2019 – more than halfway through the season – they were last placed (31st placed!)! Then, thanks to an impressive winning run, they made it to the playoffs during which they had a fantastic ride until the final won against the Boston Bruins!
- Firstly they eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in 6 games at the quarterfinals stage.
- Then they defeated the Dallas Stars in 7 games at the semifinals stage.
- After that, they got rid of the San José Sharks (Timo Meier’s team…) in 6 games in the Conference final.
- Finally, they lifted the trophy after an impressive 7-games battle against Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final!
Let’s see the St. Louis Blues’ strengths during the playoffs:
Coaching staff and team spirit
As we said, this team was at the bottom of the NHL table back on January 4th, 2019 after a nightmare start. The club fired Mike Yeo to shake things up and hired Craig Berube as “interim coach” just to finish this season that looked like a disappointing one. And instead, Mike with his staff, pulled a rabbit, or rather a Stanley Cup, out of a hat! That’s really something. Based on the interviews and on the games played, it’s clear that the coach has been able to create a tight-knit group and has been able to make each of his players express himself at best. There is a significative example for that: during Game-2 of the final, the defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (who’s known in Lugano as he trained in Ticino for several years in August) scored the game winning goal during the overtime period after that he had hit the post during the latest stages of the third period. During the break between the third period and the overtime period, coach Berube knocked at the toilet room in which there was Gunnarsson and told him “I need one more shot like that”. Well, Carl Gunnarsson made a very similar shot during the overtime period and earned the win for the Blues.
Jordan Binnington is the perfect image of the St. Louis Blues’ 2018-19 season. He’s 25 years old and had never played an NHL game before this season. Berube then gave him a chance (actually, he knew him as he coached him a couple of seasons ago in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves) and Jordan became the number one goalie instead of Jake Allen. The almost unknown Jordan Binnington played a big role for the team (32 games, 92.7% saving percentage and 25 wins). During the post-season he had a very good saving percentage (91.4%) but what impressed the most, was his ability to play the puck. Kevin Weekes (former goalie and now NHL expert) defined him as the bost goalie in the world when it comes to the first pass to defensemen. Jordan always moves the puck around very well and the defenseman then can start to build an action with relative calm. Moreover, Jordan broke some records: in fact, he now helds the record for most wins in the playoffs as a rookie and did better than Matt Murray, Cam Ward and Patrick Roy.
Head to head stats 2019 playoffs
Let’s have a look at the playoffs head to head stats of two teams
These numbers show that Boston were better on paper. In terms of stats, the Bruins had the best defensive record, the best attacking record (even more so considering that they played two games less) and Rask had better figures than Binnington. When it comes to shots, hits and face-offs instead, the two teams had similar figures. What impresses the most though, are the power-play and the penalty-killing. Boston were definitely better… And all things considered, we think it’s safe to say that the Blues final win is even more impressive.
St. Louis Blues – A historical win for a team that achieved something amazing
This year’s Stanley Cup final came to an end after 7 epic battles. Just to say… the number of hits per game during a Regular Season game is normally about 42. During the playoffs, usually is about 57. Well, this final recorded about 70 hits per game!
Having said that, the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup even though the odds were against them also when it comes to statistics. You can clearly see that in the following table.
Boston were better during power-play situations, were better penalty killers, scored more and conceded less. One can wonder, now, how come the St. Louis Blues lifted the trophy.
What we can say is that ice hockey is unpredictable and sometimes is contrary to the logic. This is the great part (or the worst part…) of sport. Unpredictability rules. The Blues achieved something amazing thanks to their character, team spirit and physical play. Well, it’s wrong to say that Boston didn’t sacrifice themselves (suffice it to think that Captain Chara played the last three games with a broken jaw), however, St. Louis took advantage of the fact that they’ve been on “desperate mode” since January. The Blues troubled season made them unbeatable when it comes to character. During the key moments of the games, St. Louis were able to score, were able to defend themselves with a knife between their teeth, and finally were able to turn the momentums in their favour. The Blues are the first franchise ever who won the Stanley Cup after being at the bottom of the table in January. If we are to talk about concrete facts, moreover, here is what we think legitimated the Blues final win.
* Boston’s impressive power-play was not as much effective: during the first three games of the series, the Bruins scored 6 times in 14 power-play opportunities while during the last four games only 1 in 8 opportunities. Moreover, the Bruins lost all the three games during which weren’t able to score a power-play goal. Do you think it’s an accident? We don’t think so. St. Louis, moreover, were more disciplined during the last couple of games and prevented Boston from having too many power-play opportunities.
* The Blues’ “fairy tale” became possible also thanks to their ability to make the difference at the key moments of the games. Over the arc of the playoffs, they always did that. They scored last gasp’s goals… they scored early goals… or again, they scored immediately after the opponents scored. By doing so, they were almost always able to take the momentum on their side. During the decisive Game-7 for example, the Blues were 2-goals ahead at the first break even though Boston had many more scoring chances (9-2!). Moreover, if we take into consideration all the playoffs games after “Game-5”, the Blues have an impressive record of 8 wins and 2 losses.
* According to experts (just like Eddie Olczyk), St. Louis were the best team of the league when it comes to 5 vs 5 play. Starting from the goalie and his active play… and moving to the pressure put on the opponents in the offensive zone, with the defensemen able to play a determinant role in preventing the opponents from coming out easily from their defensive zone. This annoying style of play (for the opponents, of course) was crucial for the win.
* One last important factor is the contribution of the key players of the two teams during the final. Boston’s first offensive line – the trio Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak – scored only 1 goal in 7 games when the two teams were 5 vs 5. While the big guns of the Blues scored much more. Suffice it to say that the playoffs leading scorer O’Reilly (MVP of the playoffs) during the last 5 games tallied 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists). It means that St. Louis’ key players, made the difference at the right time.
And anyway, the final was very exciting and also Boston could have lifted the trophy. The details made the difference though, and so the Blues are Champions for the first time of their history!
Well, that’s it… after 1’358 games, 8’144 goals, 77’352 saves… the 2018-19 NHL season came to an end. Hockey never really goes on holiday, and the draft (we’ll talk about it soon) is on the way. We think that everybody is just waiting for next season to start. Once again… congratulations to Boston for their fantastic season, and congratulations to the new Champions St. Louis Blues who gifted us with thousand of emotions!