The St. Louis Blues won Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, tying their series with the Boston Bruins at two wins apiece. Before the series began, the Blues had never won a Stanley Cup Final game.1 Now, they’re just two wins away from lifting the Cup.
Then again, so are the Bruins. Yet the stats suggest it’s the Blues that are dominating the series (yes, even with a 7-2 loss thrown in).
The Blues have dominated possession in the final. The Blues controlled possession 61 percent of the time in Game 4, according to Corsi percentage, which uses shot attempts to estimate a team’s possession rate. Aside from Game 1 the Blues have been winning the possession battle throughout the series: They controlled possession 58 percent of the time in Game 2, and despite getting embarrassed on home ice, controlled possession 61 percent of the time in Game 3.
Controlling the puck has been key because the Blues haven’t been able to depend on their goalie. Rookie Jordan Binnington has been solid for the Blues in goal this postseason, but his performance in Game 3 was disastrous. He gave up five goals on just 19 shots, and recorded his fourth Really Bad Start (RBS)2 of the postseason. Limiting the time the Bruins spent on the attack — and therefore limiting the Bruins’ ability to steamroll an inexperienced goalie in consecutive games — allowed Binnington to bounce back from one of the worst starts of his career.
The Bruins’ inability to generate scoring opportunities is an alarming trend for them in this series. An uncharacteristically awful Binnington and the Bruins’ sublime power play in Game 3 masked the fact that Boston only took 24 shots on goal. It’s unsustainable to expect 7 of 24 to go in every night. They managed just 23 shots in games 2 and 4, and lost on both occasions. The Bruins will have to find a way to possess more of the puck, and direct more shots toward Binnington’s goal, if they want to regain the lead they keep relinquishing in this series.
Of course, some of this can be explained away by injuries to the Boston back line. The Bruins lost Matt Grzelcyk to a concussion in Game 2, and had to play more than two full regulation periods and overtime with only five defensemen. And in Game 4, captain Zdeno Chara took a shot to the face in the second period. Blood poured from his mouth as he made his way off the ice and down the tunnel. Chara eventually returned to the bench, his helmet equipped with a full face mask, but he never returned to the ice.
The Bruins may find some small consolation in the fact that they haven’t yet been beaten in the series when they’ve had a full, healthy bench. But they’ll hope Grzelcyk and Chara, two of their best six defensemen, can get healthy quickly. Otherwise, the Blues might finally make history.