What NHL experts are saying about Bruins-Blues Game 7

Tuukka Rask could earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs' most valuable player Wednesday.

Boston Bruins Karson Kuhlman NHL
The Bruins and Blues will meet one last time Wednesday and one team will take home the Stanley Cup. –Jim Davis / The Boston Globe

The Bruins and Blues play Game 7 at TD Garden on Wednesday. The puck drops one last time in the 2018-19 NHL season at 8 p.m.

The Bruins forced the series to seven games with a 5-1 win in Game 6.

Here is what experts around the NHL are saying as Game 7 approaches:

Pierre LeBrun, The Athletic: “You couldn’t hand [Tuukka] Rask the MVP if he ended up two wins short of the Cup. But now … we’ve arrived at Game 7, and Rask has put his team on the brink. You’re talking about a team that might win the Cup without getting nearly any top-six offense in the final.”

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LeBrun writes that Rask, regardless of whether or not the Bruins win Game 7 Wednesday, should win the Conn Smythe Trophy and be named the NHL playoffs’ most valuable player. The catch is that only five players ever have won the award while playing for the losing team. Two of them – Ron Hextall in 1987, J.S. Giguere in 2003 – were goalies.

Rask (.938 save percentage, two shutouts, 15-8 record) has powered the Bruins all the way through the playoffs. Through the first three rounds, Rask performed comparably to Tim Thomas’s legendary 2011 postseason. His numbers are lower in the Cup Final itself (.925 save percentage, 13 goals against in six games) but that’s a product of the quality of his play throughout the entire postseason.

If the Blues win Wednesday, LeBrun writes, center Ryan O’Reilly would not be a surprising pick to win the Conn Smythe. He has scored seven points in six Cup Final games and consistently performed best among St. Louis skaters, but he had not necessarily been “the guy” earlier in the playoffs. The Blues have not had any single player perform at a top-notch level the entirety of the playoffs. In LeBrun’s opinion, Rask has.

“But again I’m just asking the question,” LeBrun writes. “If we truly look at the criteria for the award, the notion that over two months one individual performer has been consistently better than anyone else, is that not Rask?”

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Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “When [Tuukka Rask is] in the zone, he has been very hard to get pucks past. The Blues need to get traffic in front of him, and sometimes even that’s not enough. And Rask has been on in the three games this postseason when Boston has faced elimination.”

Kaplan and Wyshynski conduct a debate on a number of Game 7 topics, including keys to the game, whether Rask will win the Conn Smythe, and how many penalties to expect in the 60 minutes that will decide how a season ends. Here is the rundown:

Wyshynski writes that St. Louis’ keys to the game are to stay out of the penalty box and play the aggressive forecheck that won them Games 4 and 5. For Kaplan, the Bruins could use more scoring from their first line after they found life in Game 6, but Rask’s play continuing may be most important of all.

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Wyshynski writes that he would name Rask playoff MVP even if the Bruins lose and speculates that may happen if votes for Blues players are split between O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jordan Binnington.

Kaplan and Wyshynski take the under for this year’s Game 7 after reviewing Cup Final Game 7s from 1987-2014 that featured an average of 8.6 combined penalties.

If the Bruins win the Cup, the pair assume Chara will hand the trophy first to Patrice Bergeron. If St. Louis wins, they bet on veterans Jay Bouwmeester or Alexander Steen receiving it first after captain Pietrangelo.

And who will be the Bruins’ banner captain come Wednesday night? Agreement again: it must be Tom Brady.

Ben Frederickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Playing the brand of hockey that led the Blues here, to heights none of their predecessors in St. Louis have touched, is the only way they will stick the landing in Wednesday’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.”

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The Blues are in unprecedented territory, Frederickson writes. They could return to St. Louis Thursday the very first team in the franchise’s long history to win the Cup. The only way to do that is for the Blues’ to play the style of hockey that nearly left Boston without an answer at times this series. Hit hard. Stifle the Bruins in their own zone with the forecheck. Be relentless, the phrase Frederickson says interim head coach Craig Berube has instilled in them since late December.

The Blues will benefit from Ivan Barbashev’s return from a one-game suspension Wednesday, according to Frederickson. Game 6 was the only game St. Louis had recorded less than 30 hits, and his “heat-seeking” play style will strive to wreak havoc on the Bruins’ defensemen one last time.

Tara Sullivan, The Boston Globe: As much as our hearts, our minds, our lungs, and our souls are invested in the outcome, as much as we believe our worlds change for the better when we are on the right side of an equation that pits bottom-line stakes against top-shelf energy, we know deep down that’s not true. It’s still just a game. But it’s the best game in town.”

Sullivan pens a love letter to a Game 7 at home, a rarity in recent Boston sports history even among all the championships the city’s teams have competed for. The 2013 Red Sox and the 2008 Celtics won it all at home, but it was not a Game 7. It was not as high-stakes as possible. Wednesday night’s final showdown between the Bruins and Blues will be.

Still, Sullivan reasons, it is always worth remembering that there’s more to life than a game. Boston fans were served a startling reminder of that when David Ortiz was shot in the Dominican Republic Sunday, and Bruins defenseman Torey Krug knows no matter what happens Wednesday, he’s about to become a father.

Sure, it’s only a game. But what a game it will be.

“For the rest of the sports world, it feels like someone just added lobster to New England’s already heaving buffet,” Sullivan writes. “But for the home crowd, it’s a chance to dance in the streets overnight.”

Joe Tansey, Bleacher Report: “If Rask keeps up his overall form in elimination games as well, Boston will produce the same result as [their] last Game 7 in the championship series.”

Tansey presented two key predictions, one for each of the Bruins and the Blues. He predicts Rask will stand out again for Boston, while O’Reilly could be the difference maker for St. Louis once more.

“If O’Reilly is able to beat Rask in the first two periods, he will provide the Blues with an emotional boost that might be able to help them win Game 7,” Tansey writes.