By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In the 10-day lead-up to the Stanley Cup Final actually beginning in Boston, quite a bit of time was spent pondering just how much rust might have accumulated on the red-hot Boston Bruins. Particularly, that concern applied to Tuukka Rask, who had been playing some of the best hockey of his entire career over the previous two rounds.READ MORE: Blizzard Warning For Potentially Historic Storm That's Likely To Bring More Than 2 Feet Of Snow
Once the puck finally dropped on Game 1 Monday night at the TD Garden, Rask and the Bruins were a little rusty through 21 minutes. After that, Rask could have cultivated a Spotify playlist, solved some Sudoku puzzles and perused Pinterest for a fettuccine alfredo recipe. His defense ensured that for much of the evening, he simply would not have a heavy workload.
“The only thing I can do is tell myself to to stay focused and try to make that next save and give us a chance, keep us in the game,” Rask said of his stretch of inactivity. “Luckily, I didn’t really have to do anything. We pushed back and got some goals after that, so I was pretty much a spectator after that.”
The “that” to which Rask refers was Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko instantly capitalizing on a David Pastrnak giveaway 60 seconds into the second period to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead. Yet after that puck found the back of the Boston net, the Bruins’ defense completely took over the game on both ends of the ice.
Over the next 19 minutes of the second period, the Blues mustered just two shots on goal. One came from 41 feet away from the net; the other traveled 54 feet before Rask had to make a save.
During that 19-minute stretch, the Bruins also flipped that scoreboard from 2-0 in favor of the visitors to a 2-2 tie heading into the final frame. Rookie Connor Clifton — he of just 31 NHL games entering Monday — boldly drove to the net as Sean Kuraly carried the puck wide. Kuraly sent a pass in Clifton’s direction, and while the finish won’t end up on many highlight reels, the Quinnipiac product did what was necessary to redirect the puck past Jordan Binnington to answer St. Louis’ goal just 76 seconds later.
“He’s got a little bit of that, they call it ‘Cliffy Hockey,'” head coach Bruce Cassidy said with delight after the 4-2 Boston win. “He just plays. He plays on his instinct and right now, his instincts are good to him and it’s working.”
The Bruins’ other goal in the second period came on the power play, when Charlie McAvoy carried the puck into the St. Louis zone in a 1-on-2 situation. McAvoy fired from 30 feet out, with the puck or McAvoy’s stick blade seemingly glancing off Alex Pietrangelo’s stick at the release point. Binnington couldn’t make the save, and the game was tied.
Suffice it to say, with three shots allowed and two shots in the opponent’s net, it was as solid a 20 minutes as Cassidy and the Bruins’ defense could have wanted in a Stanley Cup Final game.
“Team defense,” Clifton explained of the three shots allowed. “Obviously we took away time and space, and that’s what we want to do, especially against their top lines.”
Cassidy’s explanation was a bit more expansive.
Cassidy credited the Bruins’ team defense, complimented his team’s breakouts, noted that his players limited their trips to the penalty box, and made a fairly simple statement: “I think we just know how to check.”
Add in 12 blocked shots by the Bruins and Rask’s ability to turn aside 18 shots, and it made for a frustrating night for the visiting team.
All of that defense paid off, as the Bruins took a 3-2 lead 5:21 into the final period, with the fourth-liners getting to work down low following a Zdeno Chara shot from the point. Noel Acciari fought for the rebound and turned his back to the net before firing a pass across the goal mouth to Sean Kuraly. He kicked the puck to his stick blade and buried a shot past Binnington, scoring what proved to be the winning goal.
The defensive effort from Boston didn’t end there, though. When Kuraly scored, the Blues had landed just one shot on net in the third period. They didn’t get a shot on net for nearly three full minutes after Kuraly scored, and through 16:30 of the third period, they had just three shots on goal in the third period, when trailing by a single goal. That’s a time when teams play desperate hockey. That’s a time when teams that made it this deep in the playoffs manage to execute.READ MORE: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments
But on this night, the Blues couldn’t find any space, couldn’t control any pucks, and really couldn’t do anything they wanted to for the majority of the game.
“Well, they pressure you. They come hard. They’re a quick team. They get on you,” St. Louis head coach Craig Berube said. “They’ve got good sticks. They do a lot of good things. You know, they, you know, we’ve got to be better. They’re gonna continue to do that, and that’s the way they play. They’re a good defensive hockey team, and they do force you into bad situations with the puck a lot of times, and you know, but we’ve got to be better than that.”
Prior to Jaden Schwartz getting a shot on goal 16:31 into the third period, the Blues had landed just five shots on goal over 35:30 of a Stanley Cup Final game. Presumably, the Blues were trying to score goals. They’re going to have to try something different come Game 2.
And while this play didn’t necessarily make an impact defensively, Torey Krug authored a moment that’s sure to symbolize a whole lot to a whole lot of people if the Bruins end up winning this series.
It came near the midway point of the third period, with the Bruins trying their best to handle that 3-2 lead. Krug — who’s listed at 5-foot-9 — ended up in a bit of Greco-Roman wrestling match in front of the Boston net with David Perron, who had three inches and 14 pounds on Krug. Even as the play moved 150 feet the other way, the two remained wrapped up, with Perron ripping off Krug’s helmet.
Despite multiple penalties being committed by both players, the referee’s arm never went up. Krug eventually emerged from the scuffle, helmet-free, and skated with purpose out of the Boston end and into St. Louis’ end. The odds of Krug, in that moment, getting a green-light opportunity to deliver a clean, massive hit on an opponent … they had to be quite low. But that’s precisely what Krug got, and he made the most of it.
An innocent, unassuming Robert Thomas bore the brunt of that rage.
Clifton was asked what that moment showed about his fellow blue-liner.
“His courage, and that you don’t want to mess with that guy,” Clifton said. “Don’t make that guy mad.”
“That gave me some goosebumps,” David Backes said. “He thinks he’s playing 30, 40 years ago. … I think that was Torey Krug establishing himself in this series. And that was, from my perspective, a big boost.”
In the grand scheme of the game, it may not have been a significant play. But in terms of one image to preserve this game in the history books, it’ll certainly serve a purpose.
“I think he had no helmet on, so he wanted to make sure he made the highlights to make that hit,” Rask quipped.
Again, given the lack of action for nearly half the game, Rask had quite a bit of time to come up with that ribbing of his teammate, as he ended up making just 18 saves on the night. It was more than enough to earn the win.
Now, after a truly dominant defensive showing, there won’t be any more talk of rust regarding the Bruins. The defensive display ensured that talk around the hockey world will center on whether or not the Blues can find ways to solve the Bruins. They better act fast, because if they go through any more stretches with five shots in 30-plus minutes, they’re just not going to be able to compete.MORE NEWS: 'Take It Very Seriously': Gov. Baker Urges Mass. Residents To Stay Off Roads During Nor'easter