The main storyline this week regarding the Bruins getting too much rest ahead of the Stanley Cup Final is not some non-relevant media creation simply designed to fill TV time and column inches. Rest almost always equals rust in pro hockey, as teams have routinely struggled with bye weeks and Olympic breaks over the years.
Worse are long layoffs in the playoffs, of course, which the Bruins are experiencing right now. When Game 1 mercifully starts at TD Garden on Memorial Day Monday night, the Bruins will have been off for a full 10 days. That is an eternity in the NFL, let alone the NHL – where rhythm plays an enormous factor.
Consider that in the past six Stanley Cup Finals, the team that had more rest heading into the series wound up losing.
Just last year is a good example as the Vegas Golden Knights wrapped up their conference final series with Winnipeg in five games. Vegas had seven days of rest in between starting the Cup Final against Washington and wound up losing to the Caps in five games.
“[The layoff] is only as tough as you make it on yourself,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “You just take time off and unwind and re-focus when it’s time to re-focus. But I’ve played a lot of hockey in my career so I think that helps. It helps to stay even-keel so you don’t screw yourself mentally, overthinking everything. When it’s time to play hockey again it’s time to play hockey again and that’s it.”
Obviously the Bruins would prefer to be going into the Cup Final with the proverbial “hot goaltender,” and for all intents and purposes Rask is will get that label despite the time off. He has been dynamite in net this spring.
That said, St. Louis rookie netminder Jordan Binnington is also the real deal, and he is more than capable of shutting down the Bruins’ offensive attack. Binnington was, statistically, the top goaltender in the NHL this season with a 24-5-1 record and a microscopic 1.89 Goals Against Average.
The 25-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ontario has been, overall, sensational in the playoffs. He had a clunker in Game 1 against the Sharks, allowing five goals, and in Game 3 against San Jose, again giving up five. But since then Binnington has reverted back to his regular season form.
In Game 4 against San Jose he made 29 saves and allowed just one goal. In Game 5 on the road, he blanked the Sharks altogether.
Binnington and the Blues can end the Western Conference Final tonight at home (8 p.m., NBCSN). If the Sharks grab the win tonight, Game 7 would be played Thursday night in San Jose.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara returned to practice on Monday after not playing in the Bruins’ clincher over Carolina last Thursday due to an undisclosed injury.
“I feel good. It was nice to be out there again,” Chara said. “It was hard [not to play in Game 4 last week], I’m not going to lie. You want to be playing. You want to be involved. But the guys did a great job and won the game.”
Chara is expected to be a full-go for Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday.