Who has the defensive edge between Bruins and Blues?
BOSTON — Bruce Cassidy laughed, cautious to not convert his words into bulletin board material for the St. Louis Blues.
But he answered the question honestly: What does he think is his Bruins’ biggest advantage over the Blues in this Stanley Cup Final?
“Experience,” Cassidy said. “I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a Cup, that have lost a Cup, that should give us an edge. Some people disagree with that once you’re here, but I believe it will give us an edge.”
Thirty years of history are on Cassidy’s side. The Blues are aiming to become the first team since the Calgary Flames in 1989 to win the Stanley Cup without a previous Cup winner on their roster.
Only two other teams in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943) have done it: the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 (also the last all-Canadian roster) and the New York Islanders in 1980, according to NHL Stats & Information.
Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist appeared in two playoff contests on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ run in 2016 - but that doesn’t count. Sundqvist’s name isn’t engraved on Lord Stanley. David Perron skated in the Final last year for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have five players remaining from their Stanley Cup roster in 2011: captain Zdeno Chara, goalie Tuukka Rask, perennial Selke finalist Patrice Bergeron, greybeard forward David Krejci and shift disturber Brad Marchand. That same core also lost to the Blackhawks in 2013.
“Well, I’m sure if I was managing Boston, I would say our experience is really great,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said Sunday. “But it is what it is. The puck’s going to drop and guys are going to have to adjust to what’s happening.”
Armstrong said one advantage would be handling a day like Sunday’s Media Day. It was a veritable circus, with a “Stanley Pup” Labrador Retriever asking players questions, plus hundreds of media from near and far, including outlets in Finland, Sweden, China and Russia.
“They know where the landmines are,” Armstrong said of the Bruins last Tuesday in St. Louis. “It’s not really the landmines when the puck drops, it’s everything that’s associated with getting to the puck drop. My experience is that you have a lot of distant cousins that are a lot closer than they were two or three weeks ago and they want to come to hockey games, they want tickets. We have to find a way to stay focused on the task at-hand.”
Cassidy said that experience has helped the Bruins all week, now appearing in their third Cup Final in nine years. They have had to navigate their own challenge with 10 days between Game 1 on Monday at TD Garden and their Game 4 clincher in Carolina on May 16.
“I think it’s helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the down time,” Cassidy said. “From my end, the value of theirs is being unselfish with your time, how to prepare, urgency in practice, routine, how important it is to get your rest away from the rink. Even though as a younger guy you might look ahead and say, ‘oh, we got 10 days, I can start getting ready in four days’ … I think that our veteran guys that have done a good job of trying to get the guys squared away with what's important.”
Almost every TradeCentre, one previous Cup winner is traded to a contender just to add that Stanley Cup experience to their mix.
Maybe that’s because over the last two decades, three other teams without a previous Stanley Cup winner made it to the Final, but all fell short in 2016 (Predators), the 2006 (Oilers) and 1999 (Sabres).
Armstrong admitted that the Blues “would have liked” to do that, but he didn’t want to disrupt his team’s chemistry in February. They were on a heater by then.
“They earned the right to see how far they could go,” Armstrong said.
Now they’ll have to see how close they can get to Lord Stanley on their own.
The Flames are proof it’s possible. Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Rob Ramage, Jamie Macoun and Mike Vernon then sprinkled that Stanley Cup magic elsewhere for more parades elsewhere around the league.
“Hopefully,” Armstrong said, “a year from now we’ll say ‘geez, St. Louis has got a lot of championship experience.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli