The Boston Bruins were back on the ice for practice Wednesday, and this time they could practice knowing whom they will play in the Stanley Cup Final that starts on Monday at TD Garden. After beating the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final Tuesday night, the St. Louis Blues will play the B’s for the right to hoist Lord Stanley and as Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy pointed out, the Bruins will be playing not only a team that resembles their second-round opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, but also one that in many ways mirrors the B’s.
“There Columbus-ish, if that’s a word,” Cassidy quipped and then discussed the similarities between the Western Conference champs and his newly anointed champs of the East.
“I think they’re very similar to us in the way that they play. They’re a fore-checking team that plays North/South, and they use all four lines. Their fourth line, in particular, gets a lot of assignments like ours. Goaltenders are both playing excellent,” Cassidy said. “Their D is bigger than ours, but both can move the puck. I expect the games will be probably lower-scoring, more physical. I think they’re a bit of our ‘twin’ so to speak with the way they balance their minutes. They might have a guy that plays a few more — [Alex] Pietrangelo — on average than us in terms of time on ice, but I think I see a lot of similarities.”
Much like the Blue Jackets did coming into the second round series that the Bruins wound up winning in six games, the Blues are not only playing a tenacious and heavy game, but they’re riding one of the hottest goalies of the playoffs in rookie Jordan Binnington. The Bruins, of course, have much more intel on Binnington than they had on Sergei Bobrovsky since the former played in Providence last season as a loan with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate. While Cassidy acknowledged he, his staff and the players are already taking advantage on that inside track, Cassidy knows that they must apply the same formula that helped them solve Bobrovsky as the series went on with Columbus.
“Second chances, traffic; I think we created some good looks,” Cassidy said. “We knew he was athletic and I think he still made some great saves on us with our good looks when he went side to side. So eventually we got him to have to control his rebounds on almost every shot. A little bit of it had to do with how they were playing us, their D were sagging so maybe we had to turn down some shots and driving towards the middle to create some anxiety for him. I think as the series went on, we figured that part of it out and forced him to control those rebounds and then recover and then eventually broke him down, but some of it is just volume of shots, quality of shots and sooner or later, players are going to get their goals.”
The Blue Jackets had good size on their blue line, but the Blues have even more, and they’ve used that size in front to minimize those second chances and even more importantly the first chances, clogging up the lanes and blocking shots. Can the Bruins break through the vaunted Blues defense?
“We like to think we can,” Cassidy replied. “I mean, Columbus had big D, they do too. Look they’re here for a reason, and that’s the task in front of us to score goals. We’ll try to get on the powerplay, whether that happens or not, we’re going to have to execute, but that’s one area where we’ve been good at generating offense. 5-on-5? Yes, we gotta get inside. We even talked about that last year as a team and that we weren’t able to do it well enough. So this year, that’s been a focus and we’ve done a better job. That’s going to be a key to the series, and if we don’t do it, we’re going to have a tough time scoring. If you have a tough time scoring, you gotta win a lot of 1-0, 2-0 games. So far, we’ve been able to get out of that – certainly, we’ve won some of those – but creating offense is a much easier way to win.”