Game 7 will likely be decided by narrow margins and special teams

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Any time you’re in a seven-game series, the odds are that it’s been pretty close statistically.

Through six games of this Cup Final, that has mostly been the case. The Bruins appear dominant by some metrics. They’re plus-7 in goals. The Blues appear dominant in others. They’re the 52ish percent corsi team at 5-on-5.

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But neither team has ever really had much purchase for too long. The Bruins have led for almost 126 minutes, the Blues for 105. The Bruins are plus-17 in shots (less than a plus-3 advantage per game). St. Louis has just an 11-10 scoring edge at 5-on-5. It also have just three more scoring chances and one more high-danger.

What has separated them, then, is the efficacy of Boston’s power play and the failure of St. Louis’s. It’s that simple. The Blues have the better of play in every conceivable way with the man advantage, except for the important ones. More shot attempts, a similar percentage getting past the defenders, more ending up on net, way more from high-danger areas.

They’ve also, shockingly, averaged more power play time per game in the series. Except that’s not actually so shocking because Boston is scoring on its power plays and thus cutting them short, while St. Louis goes through the motions and cannot figure out a way past Tuukka Rask. By xG, the Blues “should” have 4.5 or so power play goals on their 21 opportunities, and instead they have just one. Meanwhile, the Bruins have only generated enough quality looks for roughly 3.6 expected goals and they’ve scored seven.

And how’s this for a stat: Because the Bruins have a shortie in the Cup Final as well, their PK has as many goals on St. Louis’s power plays as the Blues do.

Seems like this is the critical thing for Game 7, then. Not that one should expect some sort of penalty-fest, since refs will be falling all over themselves to once again not-call things in Game 7 of a Cup Final. That’s probably how it should be, as you just want to let the boys decide things or whatever, but that also means the Bruins need to be prepared to capitalize on whatever few Blues penalties get called and figure things out at 5-on-5. Both things happened in Game 6, hence the closer-than-the-score-suggests semi-blowout.

On the other hand, the Blues just have to trust the process that got them to this point at 5-on-5, hope the stars actually generate some offense (or at least don’t get crushed), and really really hope Jordan Binnington can make the saves at 5-on-5 and on the PK.

Let’s not act like drawing penalties isn’t part of the sport, though. Teams that successfully avoid going to the box — and remember, everyone was talking about how the Blues were the least-penalized team in the playoffs before the Cup Final — are more likely to win, and thus drawing penalties (or more accurately for this nasty series, goading your opponent into committing them) is a critical skill not to be ignored. It’s as important as capitalizing on those power plays, because you have to put yourself in the position to do so before you do so.

As ever, you would be more or less correct in saying the difference comes down to goaltending. Neither team has made it easy on the opposing netminder by any stretch, but one goalie has made it a bit easy on his opponent. Rask has saved about a goal and a half above expected, more than canceling out his mediocre performances thus far with the occasional brilliant game mixed in. Binnington has allowed about the same more than expected.

These are two teams that, in terms of overall shot quantity and quality, are separated by about three-quarters of a goal in all situations excluding empty netters. That we’ve gotten this far only makes sense.

For all the talk about the refs in this series and indeed this entire playoff, the likelihood is that they’re going to make themselves scarce tonight. It’ll be up to the players on the ice, and while you might lean “Boston” given any number of factors — home ice, last change, momentum, emotion, a deeper roster, etc. — you have to understand that any one game is a weighted coinflip. Both teams will be as close to full strength as possible (still no Matt Grzelcyk for Boston) and that’s as it should be.

You wait a full season — about 10 months when you include the preseason — for things to come down to one game. This is the drama we always wanted. All that work likely comes down to one mistake. You have to be excited to see who makes it.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference and Corsica unless noted.

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