Bruce Cassidy didn’t mince words or hide behind the secrecy of playoff hockey.
The Boston Bruins coach telegraphed the most important matchup of the Stanley Cup Final on the morning of Game 1. As long as he had the last change and the ability to dictate matchups, his top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak would play against the St. Louis Blues’ red-hot line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.
“We’re comfortable with it,” Cassidy said. “But I don’t think I’m telling you anything that’s a big secret.”
In the chess match that is every playoff series, Cassidy’s first move put Boston down two goals in Game 1 and it was fourth-line forward Sean Kuraly and third-pairing defenseman Connor Clifton who were the stars in the 4-2 comeback win Monday night. Almost 80 percent of teams that win Game 1 of the final have gone on to win the Cup, but how Cassidy, Blues coach Craig Berube and their teams adjust will have a say in that.
Depth and some good luck with health got these teams here, and both will be tested in a bruising, stick-snapping, helmetless-hitting series.
The Blues have to be satisfied with how they limited Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak’s scoring chances at even strength, giving up only an empty netter to Marchand. Even the Bruins’ power-play goal came with the second unit on the ice. But they know they won’t be able to hold down Boston’s top line forever, so the onus is on defensemen like Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester to keep this up.
If Berube continues to be OK with power against power, which contributed to goals by Schenn and Tarasenko, he also might need to make some changes to tackle Boston’s ability to get goals from its entire lineup.
Kuraly had just two goals in the playoffs coming in and Clifton one, but after the Bruins tilted the ice and dominated from the second minute of the second period on, it seemed a matter of time until goaltender Jordan Binnington cracked.
That is another potential danger for the Blues, who had watched Binnington stop 83 of the 85 shots he faced in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference final and the first period Monday. Binnington has been rock solid for the Blues since making his first start in early January, and they’ll need him to be locked in as the series goes on.