By LOU KORAC
BOSTON -- Drop the puck.
That's been the mindset for both the Blues and Boston Bruins, who begin their quest of winning the Stanley Cup when the final starts with Game 1 today at 7 p.m. (NBC, KMOX 1120-AM) at TD Garden.
The Western Conference champion Blues, in the Cup final for the first time since 1970, paved their road with series wins over Winnipeg (six games), Dallas (seven games) and most recently, San Jose (six games), while the Eastern Conference champion Bruins, in the Stanley Cup final for the third time in nine seasons, eliminated Toronto (seven games), Columbus (six games) and most recently, Carolina (four games).
The Blues have not played since Tuesday, a break of five days, and while they're eager to get started, there's a bit of self-awareness of where they are soaking up the atmosphere in a business-like manner.
"It means a lot, obviously," Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. "It's probably biggest stage we all ever play. I told you yesterday the break was a little too long. Now it's a gameday and kind of same routine. I'm really excited about series starting tonight."
"We're excited," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "Obviously it's been a long wait for both teams. It's exciting to get it going. There's going to be a lot of emotions tonight. At the end of the day, it's another game and we have to be prepared."
Boston's idle time has been even longer. They last played in May 16, 11 days ago, and had 10 days between games themselves.
"Yeah, I guess until we play, it's going to be hard," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I think they've handled it well. We've mixed in rest vs. work. Yesterday, our practice was scruffy, not going to lie to you. I thought the day before was excellent, so which one are we going to?
"We've put in a plan this week we feel will allow us to have success in the first game. Until we get out there, who knows? ... I feel we're ready, but until the puck drops, don't know."
Blues interim coach Craig Berube said he and his coaching staff have had ample time to prepare and feel the team is ready to go.
"We had plenty of time to go over everything," Berube said. "It's just about getting out there and playing. I think the team is in a good spot. We're obviously anxious to get going, get out there the first few shifts and make contact and get involved and get the nerves out."
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Shutting down the opposition's top players has been a staple of Blues defensemen Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, who is making his debut in the Cup final after 1,184 regular-season games.
Next up and final hurdle on the docket is the trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who have combined for 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 17 postseason games.
Parayko is averaging 24:26 per game, while Bouwmeester is at 23:02.
"We're confident obviously," Parayko said. "We work better as a series goes along, too, as we continue to see guys and it gets us going. We obviously have a lot of confidence right now and it's been fun to learn from a guy like that has been in the league for so long and has been a shutdown guy. He's done it all his whole career. It's cool to learn from a guy like that. It makes life on me so much easier. Obviously can't say enough good things about 'Bouw' that's got us to this point and he's obviously been the anchor. He's done a lot of the arm lifting."
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Defenseman Vince Dunn is still day to day with that upper-body injury stemming from being struck in the mouth by a shot from Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon. Dunn skated again on Monday and Berube said he's close to returning but will not play tonight.
Forward Robert Thomas did not skate this morning, but that's not out of the ordinary. Berube said he will be a player tonight. Thomas has not missed a game in the playoffs.
In Dunn's absence, the Blues' third d-pairing of Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo have given the Blues good size and across their entire blue line.
The Blues are 3-0 since Gunnarsson entered the lineup with Bortuzzo and outscored San Jose 12-2.
"They've done a good job of obviously eating ice time up and defending well and doing the little things right," Berube said. "They're difficult to play against, Gunny's obviously different than Borts, but they both have good sticks and they block shots and do all the little things, defend our net really well. They make simple plays out of our zone. They've done a good job."
"We just try to do our thing," Gunnarsson said. "We don't eat up a ton of minutes. Obviously the top four gets way more, but we just accept our role and we do whatever we can in that. We try to push forward and take it step by step."
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David Backes, 10 years with the Blues, groomed in the Blues organization, captain from 2011-16, was always hopeful of parading the first-ever Stanley Cup down Market Street, in front of thousands upon thousands of Blues fans waiting their entire lives for it.
Now, he'll try and prevent them from doing it, all the while chasing his first one with the Bruins tonight.
And while Backes, 35, still has many close ties and friends to the Blues and the St. Louis area, for at least four games and up to seven, all ties are cut.
"Friends on the St. Louis Blues are now cut off officially," Backes said. "If they text me, it's going to fall on deaf ears and if they get a text back, it might be from my daughter and it it'll be very incoherent.
"I don't have enough schooling to put that into words (either Backes or Blues to win their first Cup). It's one of those opportunities that you dream of as a kid. I've said it before I wish it was alternating years that I can cheer for the Blues one year and they can win a Cup and we can have our opportunity the following year and they can cheer me and I can win a Cup and we can all have one to our names, but it's come to this. It's a binary choice. It's them or us. There were some feelings the night when the Blues eliminated the Sharks, I knew it was going to happen in this Final. There were a lot of thoughts going through my head of my friends, I'm glad they got the opportunity. I hope and I'm prepared to not make it beneficial at my expense. We're focused in on what we're doing in the Boston Bruins locker room and we're going to put our friendships aside and any good feelings until after this thing's done."
Backes is closest with Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who he handed the 'C' off to when he departed as a free agent following the 2015-16 season and has helped along the way while Pietrangelo entrenches himself in the leadership throne.
All bets are off for the next two weeks. One will walk away on top of the hockey world, one will have his dreams shattered.
"I'd say it's unfortunately special that one of us is going to have to lose and one of us is going win because you wish nothing but the best for your friends in all times," Backes said. "This time, though, I think that's going to have to take a little bit of a back seat and an exception because we do have a great friendship. We've shared a lot of great memories, to be able to pass off the 'C' to him. I'm proud of what he's done with the St. Louis Blues this year from a last-place team around the turn of the year to now the Stanley Cup Final. It's not by accident. There's a lot of hard work that goes into that and they deserve a ton of credit for that, but this is all about us right now and what we're doing in Boston. I hate to ruin a good ending, but that's our goal.
"It's a different team, yes, but when he'd call, obviously someone that I care about. When I was the captain in St. Louis, he was kind of my right hand man and the first guy in line and with me on what the goals were, what the next objective was going to be. He never wavered from that. To try and pay that forward give him advice on the other side was a no-brainer for me. The other part is St. Louis, being there for 10 years, when I got there, we were dead-last in the league with a first overall pick and not doing too well to a team that could contend the last five years of my time there. We were a potential Stanley Cup finalists, I thought, each of the years. We ran into a few hot Chicago teams or L.A. teams that were winning Cups on a regular (basis) that didn't allow us to reach that goal, but we had some really good teams. I don't feel like I wanted to abandon that, so the advice I could give to him or the time I could spend with him that would be able to continue that work that I believe that I had some fingerprints on, I wanted to continue that no question."
Now Backes, who had 208 goals and 254 assists with the Blues in 727 regular-season games and 49 more in the playoffs, has to try and channel his emotions in a different way.
"I'm very grateful that it's not my first year out of there because I'm not going to lie, my first time back in St. Louis, I think I was numb with emotions of going around seeing security guards I hadn't seen all year or people in town, everyone saying good luck or the gentleman of the hotel that we're staying at or the bus driver, all those guys were so great that it was like, 'Man, this was a place that's really touched me in my life,'" Backes said. "My wife and I grew up there. We had our first daughter there. From 22-32, you have a lot of growth as a human. I feel I made a little bit of an impression on the city. The city is something that made huge impressions on us. Thankfully it's not that first year going back there, so I've been able to be back there a couple more times, kind of get those warm and fuzzy feelings out of my system. Not that they're gone, but they're just not as experienced the first time as they would have been as the first year back. They're the opponent now, I need to think if them as such and this layoff after they eliminated the Sharks having six days to kind of wrap my head around that and say, 'OK, it's on. It's us or them.' That's really helped me see them as an opponent rather than as maybe a warm, fuzzy story."
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* Bruins forwards David Krejci (illness) and Marchand (wrist) are expected to play. Both skated during this morning's optional.
* Neither the Blues or Bruins have trailed in their last three playoff games. Boston has trailed for only 9.9 percent of playing time since the start of the second round compared to 28.1 percent for St. Louis.
* Since the final went to the best-of-7 format in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 77.2 percent of the time (61 of 79 series). However, last season, Washington rallied for a series victory over Vegas and the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup after losing Game 1 of the final, winning in five games.
* Not only have the Blues not been to the Stanley Cup final since 1970, but they are 0-3 all-time. They are also 0-12 in actual Stanley Cup final games after being swept by Montreal in 1968 and 1969 and the Bruins in 1970.
* The Blues are 0-2 in their playoff history against Boston (Bruins won 4-0 in 1970 final, won 4-0 in 1972 semifinals) The Bruins have outscored the Blues 48-15 in eight playoff games.
* Tarasenko has a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists) and can tie the third-longest playoff point streak in blues history (record held by Tony Currie, nine games, 1981).
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Vince Dunn (upper body) remains day-to-day.
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The Bruins' projected lineup:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Backes
Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton
Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Steven Kampfer, Karson Kuhlman and John Moore. Chris Wagner (right arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.