It's in the Bruins' hands to avoid being the Canucks of this Stanley Cup Final


BOSTON – The transformation is stunning when you think about it.

Eight years ago when the Bruins won their Stanley Cup, they were the big, bad hockey team looking to bully others all over the ice with their punishing brand of physicality and they simply wore teams down over the course of long series. They were also a team that struggled on special teams, most notoriously the power play, and was looking to play 5-on-5 hockey as much as possible in a scenario that catered to their size, strength and will to physically dominate.

The Vancouver Canucks were the speedy, finesse team in that matchup that brought an explosive power play to the equation and preferred speed and skill over brute, physical hockey force.

While the transformation isn’t completely identical this season, it’s striking that the Bruins have essentially morphed into the Canucks eight years later with a historically good power play and the desire to get into a special teams battle. The Blues, meanwhile, are the 5-on-5 beasts that have been beating up teams with a hard-charging, big-checking group of big-bodied players that’s worn down opponents over the course of long series.

It isn’t quite exact, obviously, because it’s the Bruins that have the clear goaltending advantage in the series with Tuukka Rask outplaying Jordan Binnington, and the more likely goalie to go crazy over a dominant final few games as Tim Thomas did back in 2011. There also isn’t a Bruin comparable to the Sedins standing there and meekly getting speed-bagged to the head as when Brad Marchand pulled that maneuver midway through the series. But in Game 4 it definitely looked like the Bruins were shying away from the hard contact initiated by the Blues, and that players like David Pastrnak and David Krejci were conceding battles rather than getting clobbered to potentially make a play.

“Let’s face it. They want to knock our ‘D’ around no matter what number is on the back of the sweater,” said Cassidy. “That’s been their MO and they’ve been effective at it at times. We’ve been the better team when we’ve been able to avoid it and use our breakouts and our foot speed to our advantage. That’s what’s made it an interesting series.”

That’s something that’s going to need to change headed into Thursday night’s Game 5 if the Bruins want to win the series, actually do some damage during even-strength play and prove that they can flourish under any conditions. They still have their chance to rise up and match St. Louis during 5-on-5 play and prove that they are actually not like the Canucks at all, but right now the label unfortunately fits.

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and David Backes are all without a single even-strength point in this series, and have only done any damage on the power play thus far vs. the Blues.

They need to find a way to fight through the tall trees of the Blues defense, and that’s as plain as Bruce Cassidy could make it on Wednesday.

“We certainly need to get inside. Charlie Coyle’s goal the other night was a good example. Get the puck to the net, get rebounds and put it in. There will be some rebounds there if we get there and we have traffic. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth,” said Cassidy. “It’s how they scored their goals. Getting it to the net, getting traffic and getting rebounds and second chances while getting on the inside. That’s typically it.

“They’re a good reloading team, so [the odd-man rush opportunities] are few and far between. There were a couple the other night too where we didn’t shoot it. So we need a little more of a shoot first mentality. At the end of the day it’s a little more of a shot mentality which should lead to net drive. Do you need to get the players or the puck to the net first? That’s a debate that we’re always having. But if we start getting the puck there then it forces the players to get there.”

That’s going to need to change over the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final with the opportunity still in front of them. The Bruins can’t simply sit back and hope that penalties are called, and that they were allowed to win a Stanley Cup Final series based on their vaunted, highly effective power play. Instead they need to go out and earn it by beating the Blues at their own game, and leave no doubt that the Bruins are the best team in the land this season.

If not we may look back at this series as the time when the Black and Gold franchise made the transformation complete from the Big, Bad Bruins teams of the past to a skilled, finesse team that didn’t have enough extra toughness to get it done when it mattered most. 

Certainly the Bruins have had their issues with bigger, heavier teams that have pushed them around over the last few seasons, and that's cropped up again here on the biggest stage. 

The Bruins still have their chance to write their entry in the Stanley Cup Final history books for the 2019 season, but they’re going to need something a lot more potent than that weak sauce four shots on net effort they put up in the third period of Game 4 in St. Louis. In the next week this edition of the Bruins will be either Stanley Cup champs, or a nice little hockey team that proved to be a little too small and not quite strong enough to get the job done when it mattered most.   

The choice is theirs in their final three games of the season, with two of them on home ice at TD Garden.

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