Rask's playoffs rivaling Thomas' legendary 2011 Conn Smythe performance
Seeing the famous photo of Bobby Orr scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal to beat his St. Louis Blues doesn't bring back bad memories for Scotty Bowman.
"Not really," the legendary coach said. "Because we didn't have a big opportunity to win that series."
Orr and the big, bad Boston Bruins swept Bowman's overmatched, expansion-era Blues in that series. Now 49 years later, Boston is in its third final in nine seasons and St. Louis is back for the first time since 1970, but this Bruins-Blues rematch is a showdown between two of the NHL's best teams since Jan. 1.
"Now it's more level," Bowman said. "(The Blues) don't give a lot of room in their end, and of course their goalie's been lights out."
Coming off a sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference final, the Bruins are favoured in the series that begins Monday in Boston. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is the front-runner to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Brad Marchand is playing some of the best hockey of his career with 18 points in 17 games, and there's a mix of veterans from the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team and fresh players eager to get their names etched on the trophy.
"I think as you get older, you appreciate it even more, and you realize how hard it is to get to this point and advance and be thankful and stay in the moment," centre Patrice Bergeron said. "But then it's back to work, and there's a lot of work in front of us."
Unlike in 1970, when the Bruins essentially just had to step on the ice to take the final, these Blues won't go away. They woke up last in the league on Jan. 3 before winning 30 of their final 45 games to roll into the playoffs, where they beat the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks.
Craig Berube, who replaced Mike Yeo as Blues coach in November, said teams would rather avoid those tough times. But they've made his players stronger.
"We were trying to get on the right track," Berube said after the Western Conference final-clinching Game 6 victory Tuesday. "Once we got going in January and February, I knew we had a good hockey team. Once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. We're here and we did. They believed they were going to make the playoffs, and we're here."
The Blues are still here in large part because of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, whose first start in January coincided with the turnaround. They adopted Laura Branigan's catchy 1980s pop hit "Gloria" as their victory song, rallied in the playoffs around young fan Laila Anderson, who has a life-threatening immune disease, and became the NHL's latest surprise story.
"The last couple months in the city have been crazy," star winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. "The support is amazing. They give us a lot of power. Unbelievable."
St. Louis is the oldest franchise not to win the Stanley Cup, and its drought is the second longest behind the Toronto Maple Leafs'. The Leafs won the season before the Blues came into the league. To finish this improbable run, the Blues have to go through the Bruins, who finished tied for the second-most points this season.
"They are a hard team to play against, a really skilled team," Tarasenko said. "But we have a hard team, too. It will be some interesting games."
Bowman's first thought about the series was that he couldn't believe how long the Bruins will have to sit out. Boston will have a week and a half between finishing off Carolina and Game 1, and even St. Louis will go six days without playing.
One benefit for the Bruins is they should get captain Zdeno Chara back for the final after he missed Game 4 against Carolina.