BOSTON – It was seven games over 17 days, the first Stanley Cup final to go the distance since 2011.
In the end, the St. Louis Blues completed their worst-to-first transformation and won the Cup for the first time in their history with Wednesday's 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 at TD Garden.
Here are seven random thoughts in the wake of the final:
1. Heavy hockey vs. speed hockey – It looks like we have two distinct styles at work here. Speed kills during the regular season (think Tampa Bay and Toronto) but seems to get killed in the postseason. Boston and St. Louis are heavy teams with a capital H and so was San Jose and, to a lesser extent, Carolina. Both of them made the conference final.
"The Capitals were a heavy team last year, too,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said during the series, referring to Washington's 2018 championship. "But that’s just the way we’re built and I think that’s one of the things we really focused on … being that heavy team, being a hard team to play against.”
"It’s a good discussion," added Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "This decade, I thought the Bruins in ’11 and L.A. ('12 and '14) were heavier teams. I think Chicago and Pittsburgh (who combined to win five Cups) geared more towards speed and skill, so it’s a good argument: How do you best to construct your team? I think GMs go through it every day."
2. GMs can't give up on their teams anymore – Prior to the series, St. Louis' Doug Armstrong recalled being in Russia in January at the World Under-18 tournament and pondering he had to decide what to do about his lottery-protected first round pick owed to the Sabres in the Ryan O'Reilly trade. If it was a top-10 pick, he would likely have kept it and deferred next year's No. 1 to Buffalo. He never had to make the choice. Armstrong believed in his team and didn't break it up in a example to all GMs going forward.
The lesson of the 2019 Blues will now be that anything is possible. GMs are going to be less likely to let seasons slip away unchallenged like the Sabres did in the second half. They're more likely to tweak their lineup trying to get in the playoffs and then take their chances what they get there.
3. Jordan Binnington will get paid – The Blues' goalie became the first rookie to win 16 games in a playoff year and was clearly St. Louis' most valuable player in the regular season, as his arrival in early January signaled the team's turnaround. Binnington was on a cap hit of $650,000 this season and is a restricted free agent. Pittsburgh gave Matt Murray three years at a cap hit of $3.75 million in 2017 after he won two Stanley Cups. That's the ballpark Binnington might be looking at.
4. Where did the Bruins' stars go? – Brad Marchand had two goals in the series (one in an empty net). David Pastrnak had two goals and Patrice Bergeron just one, and they combined to go minus-10. David Krejci had one point in the seven games. Sean Kuraly scored a pair of game-winning goals and Charlie Coyle scored three times in the series. Otherwise, Boston would have been toast much sooner than it was.
5. Coaching isn't overrated – Teams might have itchy trigger fingers when it comes to coaches but the right guy behind the bench can make a difference. Boston's Bruce Cassidy has steadied the ship since the 2017 sacking of Claude Julien while it's a foregone conclusion Craig Berube will get the interim tag removed from his label after replacing Mike Yeo in November. Both groups loved their coach and how well they adjusted to adversity.
6. Long waits can end – Fans of the Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, teams both born in 1970 and still looking for their first Stanley Cup, can take solace what happened in this decade. Chicago won its first Cup in 49 years in 2010, Boston broke a 39-year drought in 2011 and then three teams won for the first time. Los Angeles (2012) finally broke through after 44 years, Washington (2018) emerged after 43 years and the Blues finally own one after 52 seasons.
7. Division mates get food for thought – The Atlantic is considered the NHL's toughest division largely because of the Lightning and Leafs. But now the Bruins are the defending East champions, Florida has Joel Quenneville as coach and Detroit has Steve Yzerman as GM. Good luck to the Sabres. When the playoffs started, the Blues' great finish still didn't generate a lot of thought. Plenty of observers of the Central felt Winnipeg, Nashville and perhaps Dallas were better. What will those teams, plus Chicago and Colorado, think now with St. Louis having hoisted the Cup?