The St. Louis Blues became NHL champions for the first time in their 51-season history courtesy of a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at TD Garden.
Jordan Binnington made 32 saves for the Blues, who earned the three-goal win despite the Bruins outshooting them 33-20. Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist, giving him 23 postseason points en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy:
O'Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo scored first-period goals to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead. After a scoreless second, Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford added insurance tallies in the third.
Matt Grzelcyk scored for the Bruins when they had an extra attacker with 2:10 remaining, spoiling Binnington's shutout chance after 32 consecutive saves.
Pietrangelo, who was on the ice for all four goals, added an assist. Jaden Schwartz led the Blues with two of his own.
The first period set the tone for the rest of the game.
Anyone watching the opening frame through 16 minutes could not have envisaged the Blues leading 2-0 into the intermission. If anything, the Bruins may have been up by a couple of scores, having outshot St. Louis 12-4 during the period.
Alison Lukan of The Athletic posted a chart that explains just how dominant Boston was for the vast majority of the opening 20 minutes:
The Point did as well, noting that the Bruins had three times as many shots, four times as many slot shots and more than twice the offensive-zone possession time:
However, Binnington formed a brick wall in front of numerous high-quality chances:
The goalie made three saves on the Bruins' lone power play, which was the only one either team had on the night.
It seemed as though Boston was destined to break through, but the team's excellent opening didn't translate into goals. Eventually, St. Louis made the B's pay.
With three-and-a-half minutes left in the first, a Sammy Blais hit kept the puck in the Bruins' defensive zone. The Blues worked it around to Jay Bouwmeester, who found O'Reilly for a nifty deflection and the game's first goal at 16:47:
The score took the air out of TD Garden and simultaneously stunted any momentum the B's amassed.
The goal also had historical significance:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Ryan O'Reilly becomes the third player in NHL history - and first in 53 years - to score his team’s opening goal in four consecutive games during a Stanley Cup Final. O'Reilly's goal gives him 22 points this postseason, the most points in a single postseason in Blues history. https://t.co/oN1XWEZ133
The Blues surely would have signed up for a 1-0 lead after the Bruins outplayed them for the majority of the period, but an untimely Boston line change led to Pietrangelo's goal with eight seconds left:
Schwartz recorded an assist with some nifty puck-handling and the timely pass, but Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.com set the scene regarding the line change:
Critics did not take kindly to it after the Blues jumped out to their 2-0 lead:
The final tally after the first period: St. Louis 2 (on four shots), Boston 0 (on 12 shots).
Schenn nearly made it 3-0 midway through the second, but goalie Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara somehow kept the puck out of the net after it initially hit the crossbar:
During that period, Boston had only nine shots on goal and zero minutes on the power play, which was crucial considering that the Bruins entered the night having converted on 32.9 percent of their postseason power-play attempts.
The third period featured a much more frenetic pace than the first two periods, but the Blues were able to keep pace with the Bruins' chances.
And St. Louis broke through again thanks to a Schenn goal at 11:25, effectively sealing the victory:
Sanford added another goal with 4:48 remaining:
All four Blues goals occurred in the slot or right in front of the net. They may not have shot more than the Bruins, but their high-quality chances proved to be the difference.
Grzelcyk erased the shutout with 2:10 left, but the damage had been done on a night when almost nothing went Boston's way.
Marisa Ingemi of the Boston Herald noted three key points that did not happen:
Instead, the B's failed to find their rhythm:
St. Louis, which earned a Stanley Cup berth in each of its first three years of existence, hadn't made the championship round since the 1969-70 season, when Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr and the Bruins swept St. Louis in four games.
The circumstances were much different this season, as no team held more than a one-game lead during the Stanley Cup Final.
In the end, the Blues won their third Stanley Cup road game in four tries, cementing the franchise's first title.
The Blues' first Cup is all the more impressive considering the team was 15-18-4 on Jan. 2, which gave St. Louis the league's lowest point total at that juncture.
Five days later, Caesars Palace listed St. Louis as a 250-1 underdog to win the Cup:
However, St. Louis finished the season 30-10-5 thanks largely to rookie goaltender Binnington, whose 1.89 GAA was a league-best mark. The midseason call-up went 24-5-1 in 30 regular-season starts and started every postseason contest.
The Blues rode that heat wave into the playoffs, outlasting the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks before taking down the Bruins, who tied for the NHL's second-best regular-season point total.
Along the way, St. Louis won 10 of 13 road games during a postseason wherein it had home-ice advantage only once.
The Blues will now celebrate at home, as they gave their city its first NHL champion.