NHL Mailbag: Do Bruins have easiest Stanley Cup path in recent memory?

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The date is set. We can all rest up this weekend and get ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

In the meantime, there’s plenty to talk about with these two teams, how they match up, and all the rest. So why dawdle?

Let’s go:

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Pat asks: “Will the Blues’ rise from last place to Stanley Cup Final inspire other bad teams to try and compete at the deadline in the future?”

I would push back on a number of ideas here, most notably that the Blues were a “bad” team. After the coaching change, they were not only not bad, but an elite club by any measure. It took Craig Berube a week to find the right switch to flip, but once he did, that was the end of it. This team was always going to be competitive, if not actually make the Cup Final.

The other idea I’d push back on here is that they did anything at the deadline. A week out from the deadline, they were comfortably third in the division and tied for fifth in the West with a strong Vegas team. They likely didn’t feel the need to mess with a formula that was clearly working, so the only move they made was to add Michael Del Zotto from Anaheim for a sixth-round pick. Del Zotto only played seven games for them down the stretch, and none in the playoffs.

I think the team that might inspire more “going for it” is probably the Blue Jackets, but even then, that’s a tough model to follow and they only made it to the second round, where they got stomped. I’d expect business as usual at the next deadline.

Jacob asks: “Regardless of who wins, does Rask get the Conn Smythe?”

Probably, with the caveat that he could fall apart because of the long delay, in which case it would probably go to someone on the Blues. But if the Bruins lose a bunch of 3-2 and 2-1 games, absolutely he should win it.

Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz all seem like good candidates for St. Louis, but none have really differentiated themselves from the pack too much. Hell, even if Rask cools off, the Bruins still have a chance to win and someone like Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron could bridge the current game with a big performance. That, too, is well within the realm of possibility.

All that said, Rask should absolutely be the favorite to win it right now, and I’m not sure anyone else is even particularly close.

Tim asks: “Do the Bruins have the easiest path to the Cup (essentially Seeds Nos. 5, 8, 7, and 5) in recent memory?”

Mathematically by seeding they probably do, but if you go by pure goal difference, it was actually easier for St. Louis.

Winnipeg, Dallas, and San Jose were a combined plus-64 this year. Toronto, Columbus, and Carolina were a combined plus-83. By standings points, the Blues’ opponents had 293, Boston’s had 297. Add in the opponents in the Cup Final and things go to plus-108/400 points for St. Louis and plus-107/396 for Boston.

But you gotta keep in mind the East was insanely good for the second straight season, while the West was not. The postseason cutoff the last two years was 97 and 98 points in the East, versus 95 last year and just 90 this year for the West.

Boston easily handled Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
Boston easily handled Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

Caleb asks: “Is Craig Berube a truly good coach, or was Mike Yeo just so bad for St. Louis that literally any replacement-level coach could lead the Blues to a Cup?”

Well the numbers don’t lie. He took a team that looked really bad, added a career AHLer in net, and made them look as good as the Sharks or Bruins (regular-season numbers, that is) with a Vezina-worthy goalie.

I don’t think any schmo off the scrap heap can do that. There’s always that bump when you shed a demonstrably bad coach, but never like this. Berube has clearly figured something out in the modern game with this specific roster — which, remember, we all thought was going to be pretty good coming into the season, Yeo and Jake Allen aside — that makes them as good as they are.

Chris asks: “How does the depth of each team compare? San Jose looked way more stacked than St. Louis.”

That’s because it was way more stacked. I said it in post-WCF wrap, but the Blues aren’t much more than a one-line team (at least in terms of having top talent) and the Sharks are. Didn’t end up mattering because of goaltending and injuries.

It’s fair to say the Bruins are similarly talented at the top of the lineup and also happen to have a much better first line, similar second line, and probably similar depth. They definitely have a better third pairing than San Jose (Justin Braun’s pair got slaughtered by St. Louis) and obviously Rask is way better than Martin Jones.

That doesn’t mean I like the Bruins in four or five games or anything, but until injuries (especially the lingering one for Erik Karlsson) broke down the Sharks, St. Louis more than had its hands full. I think the Blues face a similarly steep hill with Boston.

Cascadia asks: “As a Chicago fan who hates both teams, should I hate-watch this series at all?”

Yeah dude it’s the Cup Final. I know hockey “fans” love to tune out the second their favorite team is out, but if you can’t get up for a series between two great teams just because you don’t like them, maybe try growing up.

Like okay, yeah, you don’t want to see either team win but you can just watch it to enjoy the hockey and then shut off the elimination game when it looks like it’s wrapped up. No one is forcing you to watch Chara or Pietrangelo actually raise the Cup.

Plus, you’re a Chicago fan. Your team won three Cups in the last decade. I think you can handle it.

Barry asks: “Why do some hockey people get extra-cranky if you accidentally call it the ‘finals,’ does it really matter?”

It’s Please Like My Sport nonsense. For the record, it doesn’t make sense that it’s “Stanley Cup Final” and not “Stanley Cup Finals” because there are seven games and not just one. But, hey, branding.

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

Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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