NHL Stanley Cup Betting Preview: Can the Blues Hang With the Bruins?

NHL Stanley Cup Betting Preview: Can the Blues Hang With the Bruins? article feature image

Joe Puetz, USA Today Sports.

Stanley Cup Final Betting Odds: St. Louis Blues vs. Boston Bruins

Blues odds: +135
Bruins odds: -155

On the surface it seems like the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues got here in very different ways.Boston came into the season with high expectations in a difficult division and was a wire-to-wire contender.

St. Louis, on the other hand, came in with tempered expectations in a what was supposed to be a tough division and found themselves in last place at the turn of the year.

Even though the surface-level narrative will suggest the paths the two finalists took to the Stanley Cup are different, the Blues and Bruins share an important common thread: They both played their best hockey when it mattered most.

Since New Year’s Day, the Blues and Bruins were the second and third best teams in the NHL, respectively, behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Not only did St. Louis and Boston rank in the top three in Points Percentage, but they both were in the top five in Goals For Percentage, Shot Share, Expected Goals Against per 60 and High-Danger Chances Against per 60.

In other words, their down-the-stretch success was real.

At the end of the postseason we are usually left with two teams who each played well down the stretch and this year is no different. It sounds cliché at this point, but hockey is all about getting hot at the right time.

Heading into the grand finale the Bruins are the better team in better form, but is this price too high? Let’s dive in.

Why the Bruins Should Win

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that the Bruins are a decent favorite to win this series. At the current odds (courtesy of the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas), the B’s have an implied probability 58.8% without adjusting for the vigorish.

The Bruins are firing on almost all cylinders heading into the Cup. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is the odds-on favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, their top line is in peak form and their defensive game is as strong as ever.

Rask has been the story in Boston’s run through the Eastern Conference, but let’s start with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron.

Even though the B’s top line only scored once at 5-on-5 in a four-game sweep of the Hurricanes, they were dominant against a team with a great defense and a terrific two-way center in Jordan Staal.

The Bergeron line dominated Staal’s line in the Eastern Conference Final, but whether they can operate at the same level against Ryan O’Reilly, another two-way standout, remains to be seen.

The reason that line clicks so well is that all three forwards can play in all three zones and are good at so many different things. From transporting the puck to breaking up rushes on defense to finishing, all three are complete players.  Furthermore, they are Boston’s top producers on the power play, which is operating at a mind-blowing 34% this postseason.

The Bergeron line may get all the accolades up top, but the Bruins are not a one-line team. Boston’s middle six, which was solidified with mid-season acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, is not lacking in terms of firepower, play-making ability or defensive know-how.

Boston’s bread-and-butter is it’s defensive play. The Bruins ranked second overall in Shot Attempts Allowed, High-Danger Chances Allowed and expected goals allowed per 60 minutes this season.

That made Rask’s job pretty easy in goal, but the veteran netminder has played the best hockey of his career in these playoffs.

Rask has a .942 overall save percentage in 17 postseason games. The Bruins have allowed 23 goals at 5-on-5 this postseason but should have allowed 30 according to their expected goals. That tells you that Rask has been worth roughly seven goals to Boston in the tournament.

Perhaps the most impressive stat in Rask’s postseason portfolio is his .879 inner slot save percentage (per The Point Hockey). The inner slot is the most dangerous area on the ice and Rask has found a way to shut teams down even on their best scoring chances.

Courtesy of The Point Hockey/SportLogiQ

Goaltending is very volatile and hard to predict, so it’s anybody’s guess whether or not Rask will perform near this level for the next two weeks, but Boston can certainly feel good about where its goaltending is heading into Game 1.

How the Blues Can Win

After a monstrous second-half performance in the regular season, the Blues’ statistical portfolio has been a little lacking so far this postseason. They are actually below average in terms of expected goals and high-danger scoring chances in 19 postseason games.

That may sound like cause for concern, but it could also mean we haven’t seen the best of the Blues yet this spring.

Over the 82-game regular season, St. Louis ranked third (behind Boston) in both expected goals against and high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The Blues were one of the best defensive teams in the NHL in 2018-19, but things haven’t been the same in the playoffs.

The reason St. Louis has been able to keep winning in the tournament is that they are running hot offensively. Even though the Blues are only generating 2.15 xGF/60, they are averaging 2.54 GF/60 thanks to a league-high 8.7 shooting percentage in the postseason.

For the Blues to have a chance in this series they’ll need to continue shooting the puck well and have Jordan Binnington keep pace with Tuukka Rask in the battle of the netminders.

That means the Blues will need to win the battle for the slot. As this video from our friends at The Point Hockey details, the team that generates more shots from the slot wins nearly 60% of the time.

Both the Bruins and Blues have done a good job at generating more shot attempts from the slot than their opponents. Boston is +30 in terms of slot-shot differential this postseason but St. Louis isn’t far behind at +28.

If the Blues can find a way to come out in the black in that metric it will make Binnington’s job a lot easier and gives them a fighting chance in this series.

If Binnington stumbles all of this is pretty much moot as he will need to play at least as good — if not better — than he has this postseason. The 25-year-old rookie has given St. Louis what it’s needed so far this postseason, but he will likely need to steal a game or two to give the Blues a good chance.

Series Betting Analysis

This series features two teams that are built on solid defensive play and good goaltending. Both teams are comfortable playing in 2-1, 3-2 games and know they have the high-end players capable of providing the big moment to win them a game.

Boston is the better team and are likely to win the Stanley Cup, but that’s the not the question you should be asking if you are betting the series price. What you should be trying to answer is if the Bruins win this series 58.8% of the time.

If the answer to that question is yes, than you should back the Bruins. If you think the Blues win the series more than 41.2% of the time, you have an edge on St. Louis.

I believe the Blues tick that box and will be playing St. Louis on the series line. For the entire second half of the season the Blues were just as good as Boston in almost every facet of the game.

Things may have dipped in the postseason a little bit, but I am confident that the Blues haven’t played their best series yet. I also expect some regression from Rask and think the Blues are in a good spot to catch Boston in Game 1, given the 10-day layoff the Bruins will need to deal with.

Most importantly, I think Craig Berube’s team is good enough defensively to stay with Boston and turn this contest into a coin flip.

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