bmcgair@pawtuckettimes.com

At a time when the local NHL entry stands one step away from pressing their fingers against a certain 35-pound shiny goblet, better known as Lord Stanley, we thought it would be proper to tap into the area’s rich hockey tradition.

The thing that most stands out when talking to hockey folks about the Boston-St. Louis matchup is their passion for the sport. There’s no fake enthusiasm, nor will you be fed a steady stream of clichés. They possess unbridled comprehension along with an ability to articulate said knowledge that doesn’t leave you dazed or confused.

From area high school and college head coaches, to ex-NHL’ers who have played in the Stanley Cup final, those who took part in this literary exercise were asked to give their view on Bruins vs. Blues, predict the series winner, and provide a number on how many games will be needed. Naturally, many expressed concern about Boston’s elongated respite from game competition, yet it was clear that everyone who participated was eager to give their take.

Alphabetically, now it’s time to drop the puck!

MARK ANDREOZZI

Credentials: boys’ hockey head coach at Cumberland High.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: St. Louis is playing really good hockey but so are the Bruins. Ever since the Dallas (second-round) series when St. Louis tweaked their lines, the Blues have been rolling four lines. They have some depth, but the Bruins were dominant against Carolina. They’re rolling, but it’s going to come down to goaltending. The rookie [St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington] has been playing phenomenal. Plus, he’s from the Bruins’ organization so you have that whole tie-in, but Tuukka Rask has been lights-out. He’s playing absolutely sensational, but my two boys [Giuseppe, 5, and Anthony, 3] are saying Boston is going to win and I’m going with them.

How many minutes [Bruins veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara] can give to shut down the top players on St. Louis is another key.

Prediction: Bruins in six games.

***

DAVE BELISLE

Credentials: former Mount St. Charles boys’ hockey coach.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: St. Louis has been playing tremendous hockey. I think they’re a mirror image of Boston. If St. Louis were to win, they’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. If Boston wants to win, they’ve got to continue to get contributions from all their lines. I hope this layoff doesn’t slow down Boston’s first line; they were really starting to click and had their mojo going. That’s a unit you have to take very seriously.

Now that Chara has had a chance to rest, I think he’ll be himself and that’s a plus for Boston. It’ll be a hard-hitting, tight-checking final. We just won’t have Bobby Orr soaring through the air. We’ve certainly waited long enough.

Prediction: Bruins in seven games.

***

BRYAN BERARD

Credentials: Woonsocket native; Mount St. Charles alum; first overall pick of 1995 NHL Draft; played in the NHL for 10 seasons.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: Honestly, I have no idea how this will go. Both teams are evenly matched. I think St. Louis has better defensemen, but I would not bet against [B’s center Patrice] Bergeron. If Rask keeps playing like he has been and the break doesn’t hurt Boston, I don’t see them losing. But St. Louis is tough. The best two teams are in the finals. I think it’s a coin flip.

Prediction: St. Louis in six games, but I am rooting for Boston.

***

BRIAN BOUCHER

Credentials: Woonsocket native; Mount St. Charles alum; played 13 seasons in the NHL; appeared in the 2010 Stanley Cup final with Philadelphia; current NHL on NBC analyst.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: Forwards –  Bruins hold a slight edge. I feel the forward groups are fairly evenly matched. Both teams have a fourth line that makes a difference and there is balance but the Bruins top line with Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is better than either of the Blues’ top two lines.

Edge: Boston

Defense – Fairly even here as well. The Blues have a terrific top four that can defend and are fairly mobile considering they have size. If Vince Dunn plays, that only enhances their puck moving and mobility. The Bruins’ D has been terrific all postseason. Connor Clifton is no longer a question mark, although the Cup final can be a different animal. It’s a wash here for me.

Edge: Even

Special teams –  Bruins have the edge here. Their power-play unit is elite and very tough to stop. The Blues’ power-play was solid during the regular season and postseason, but I don’t think it will be as productive as the Bruins’ PP in this series.

Edge: Boston

Goaltending: Binnington has been a great story but he’s had some time off since his last game and the pressure of the final can be an issue. It’s a circus every day during the finals, and distractions can pop up. Will he remain as locked in? We will see. Rask has never played better than he has all postseason, in my opinion. I’m concerned about the time off for him. If rust and timing are an issue then this could be a tighter matchup altogether. If Rask picks up where he left off in Eastern Conference Finals … I think Rask is the better of the two goalies. His experience will serve him well in this series. He’s been to the finals twice (once as a backup and once as a starter). I sense that his urgency level to win as the starter is extremely high.

Edge: Boston

Overall – This will be a very hard-fought series. Space will be difficult to find as both teams play well defensively. Special teams and goaltending will play a role. This will be a very physical series, too. Depth may play a role if guys get banged up.

Prediction: Bruins in seven games.  

***

KEITH CARNEY

Credentials: Pawtucket native; Mount St. Charles alum; played 16 seasons in the NHL; appeared in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals with Anaheim.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: I’m most excited to see the goaltending matchup, to see if both goalies play at the elite level they have been playing at. I’d have to give Rask the advantage because he’s been there.

We all know how huge goaltending is in the playoffs. It makes me think back to the incredible Cup run we had in Anaheim. J.S. Giguere was unbelievable and gave us the confidence and belief we could win. I think Boston wins, but I can’t discount the way the Blues responded in the conference finals when they lost in overtime on a questionable goal [in Game 3 vs. the Sharks]. They didn’t complain and kept grinding. They have been really good since that point and maybe it’s their year???

Prediction: Bruins in five games.

***

DAVE GOUCHER

Credentials: Pawtucket native; Tolman High graduate; former radio play-by-play voice of the Providence Bruins and Boston Bruins; current television voice of the Vegas Golden Knights; Westwood One radio contributor.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: Having been around the Blues during the Western Conference finals, they definitely have something going on that’s pretty interesting. They turned everything around after being dead last in the league at the beginning of January. It’s been pretty interesting to see how they’ve been able to pull it out of the ashes and emerge as one of the two teams left standing.

Much like Boston, St. Louis has a fourth line that’s been very effective in the playoffs and sets the tone for them in a lot of games. The goaltending matchup is very intriguing. Rask is looking to break through and win his first Cup. Then you have Binnington who obviously played for the P-Bruins last year. Some of this stuff, you can’t make up.

I was fortunate to be around Patrice Bergeron for many years. There’s a core of this Bruins team that won it all in 2011 and were on a team that almost won it all two years later. Meanwhile, St. Louis hasn’t been to a Cup final since 1970 and is looking to break through and win the franchise’s first title. On a lot of different levels, it’s interesting and pretty unique.

These are two very evenly matched teams; you can flip a coin. There’s not much that separates them. I don’t think it will be a short series. If you’re a Bruins fan, you hope the layoff doesn’t have an adverse effect.

Prediction: Bruins in seven games.

***

MATT MERTEN

Credentials: former Mount St. Charles & Providence College goalie; succeeding the Belisles as MSC head coach of the R.I. Interscholastic League team.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: The physical nature of the Blues will definitely keep them in the series, but I think the difference lies in the secondary scoring for the Bruins. Plus, having gone up against a goalie of the caliber of (Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky) in the earlier rounds, I think that will really make a difference once they shake off the rust from their layoff.

Prediction: Bruins in six games.

***

MATT PLANTE

Credentials: Co-director of Mount St. Charles Hockey Academy and & Under-18 head coach.

Thoughts on Stanley Cup final: I think the two teams match up well against each other. Boston is very deep up front and have what I think is the best fourth line in the NHL. They are getting contributions from all of their defensemen, no matter who is in the lineup, and have done very well stepping up when guys like Charlie McAvoy and Chara were not playing.

In my opinion though, Rask is the X-factor. He has been playing next-level hockey and gives the Bruins the greatest edge between the two teams. I do think St. Louis’ D-unit might have a slight edge over Boston’s only because of size. They have six excellent D-men. I think Boston is just a little deeper up front but not by much and both teams can play a hard, heavy style and both teams have difference makers.

I think St. Louis takes advantage of Boston’s long layoff in the first three games and takes a 2-1 series lead. As the series goes deeper, Boston ends up finding their groove again and wins the series in six games. I think this is going to be a great final between two teams that can grind and have difference makers up front. I think Boston can be a little stingier on the defensive side and it helps that they have Rask. That being said, you can’t argue Binnington’s numbers since mid-January or so and what he has done to help get his team in the finals, especially during the last three games of the Western Conference Finals.

In the end I go with what I see from Rask right now and his experience of two previous finals as well. Even though he backed up [Tim Thomas] in one of them, he still went through that process. Hopefully there are no injuries on either side that muddy the waters.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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