You can forgive the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for publishing the thing about the Blues winning the Cup about 12 hours before Game 6 even started.
Most of the past few days were spent hand-wringing about everything that was wrong with the Bruins — a team that, yes, lost two in a row, but also outshot St. Louis 39-21 in Game 5. While there was plenty of reason to believe the Blues would be ready to run through any number of brick walls to win the Cup on home ice with all their attendant celebs and superfans and a cast of tens of thousands outside watching in the shadow of the Arch.
But the Bruins, back to playing with 12 forwards and six defensemen after Zdeno Chara was apparently feeling capable of taking on more minutes, had their own plans.
Boston’s strategy the last few games has been obvious: Just throw everything at the net, because Jordan Binnington is probably going to cough up a rebound. The problem, then, was that they couldn’t cut through the layers of Blues defenders to actually bury one of those rebounds, or even create much havoc around the net. But in a series this close (goals were 16-13 Boston coming in thanks to the blowout last time they were in St. Louis, and shots were 147-145), the thinking has to be that one is all you need.
They got that one relatively early, and then in the pivotal third period, they got four more. And they didn’t need the rebounds.
At the other end, the team in front of Tuukka Rask played as close to total shutdown hockey as you could reasonably expect against a team as good as the Blues, and Rask delivered the performance that was promised in the Eastern Conference Final. Even the one goal that beat him on 29 shots needed to be reviewed because it crossed the line by about an inch. That included multiple highlight-reel saves.
Rask, by the way, stopped 28 of 29 and his playoff save percentage ticked up from .93651 to just .93767. He’s been that good for that long.
Of course, much was made online and on TV about the fact that the Bruins outshot St. Louis in the first period, as that was not indicative of play at 5-on-5, which the Blues straight-up dominated as they have for much of this series. I didn’t think that was necessarily the case (attempts were 13-11 St. Louis, shots were 7-5 Boston, scoring chances were 6-4 St. Louis, high-dangers were 2 apiece, and Boston had a 0.77-0.41 edge in xG) but it’s fair to say St. Louis had more zone time because that forecheck continues to be effective far more often than not, especially when the Ryan O’Reilly line is on the ice.
However, another thing the Blues did at 5-on-5 was take an unnecessary and truly dumbassèd boarding penalty — that frankly should have been a major against Brayden Schenn, but wasn’t because you know how it goes in elimination games — and that’s a huge negative. Then, O’Reilly put the puck over the glass 62 seconds later and gave that ailing Bruins top line a 5-on-3.
As with Game 4, it was one of those things where that line has been pummelled all series, but if you keep putting them out there with higher-than-usual chances to score, you’re not gonna get away with too many PK attempts. Brad Marchand buried a gorgeous one-timer 21 seconds later. That goal was facilitated by a Patrice Bergeron stick lift out of a scrum that was caused by, you guessed it, a Binnington rebound.
Not that the Bruins didn’t take penalties, of course, but that PK was just smothering, as it has been this entire series. That’s something Boston needs to tighten up for the same reason St. Louis did earlier: Its best players haven’t scored in a while, and why keep giving them the opportunity?
The reason that principle didn’t hold true for the Blues, though, was the Bruins did a better job of keeping pucks away from Rask and, when they couldn’t, Rask stood on his head. Indeed, the Blues’ power play is now just 1-for-18 in the series and that is, to use a technical term, bad.
In the third period, Boston got two goals from unlikely sources and even less likely scenarios: A bouncer from Brandon Carlo that goes in less than 1 percent of the time, and a perfectly placed change-up around Alex Pietrangelo from Karson Kuhlman, who drew into the lineup tonight as the 12th forward, in his first appearance since early in the Columbus series.
O’Reilly scored late, because he’s having a positively sterling Cup Final to thumb his nose at all the doubters in Buffalo, but down 3-0, it didn’t matter much. Hell, everything went so well for the Bruins that the Perfection Line even scored a 5-on-5. That’s how you know things went sideways.
So now the series shifts back to Boston and, unlike the lead-up to Game 6, all things feel truly possible.
But if the Bruins can manufacture that kind of defensive performance again, let alone get that kind of performance from Rask, maybe some things are more possible than others.
31 Takes: Playoff Edition
Boston Bruins: I mentioned it above but the top line had a big night. They scored at 5-on-5, they scored at 5-on-3. But they still aren’t playing great hockey at 5-on-5, and maybe you say it doesn’t matter since they got their goals — big dogs gonna eat — and they got through to Game 7 Wednesday. It’s 60 minutes, maybe more, until summer either way, and if you don’t get their best performance on Wednesday, well, it still might not matter.
St. Louis Blues: Can’t overstate how much a swing that Schenn penalty was: The Blues were better than plus-0.5 expected goals in all situations before that. It dropped to about plus-0.2 by the time Marchand scored at 5-on-3, and in the immediate aftermath of the O’Reilly delay of game, it dipped to worse than minus-0.6. Totally took the life out of a team that started white hot. They got their act back together and really made a push around the middle of the second period, but the Bruins got that quick goal in the third and that really just felt like it. Penalties costing this team? You don’t say. Interesting to think about where they’d be if they stopped making these unnecessary infractions.
Gold Star Award
Tuukka Rask 3-0 in elimination games in this postseason. Remember, local media wanted Jaro Halak starting Game 1 against the Leafs.
Minus of the Weekend
I don’t know how it was discussed on the Canadian broadcast, but on the NBC one, Eddie Olczyk blamed Joakim Nordstrom for getting hit from behind by Brayden Schenn, saying, “Nordstrom saw him.” Yeah, he saw Schenn tailing him, but no professional hockey player should expect that a guy is gonna crosscheck him in the numbers four feet away from the board at speed.
No place in the game for that, but you can say that about a lot of the stuff the Blues have gotten away with in this series.
Play of the Weekend
This is advice for all you kids out there: If you’re gonna score your first 5-on-5 goal of a Stanley Cup Final — and the Bruins’ top line is still being outscored 5-1 at full strength — you can at least have the decency to make it look this damn good.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “JoemAvs” is thinking ahead:
James Reimer (2 years @3.4M)
COL 3rd round pick in 2020
FLA 6th round pick in 2020 (or COL 6th round pick in 2020 if we somehow re-sign Brassard”
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