By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For 244 minutes this series, the Blues and Bruins have beaten the hell out of each other — physically, emotionally, spiritually. This time of year, with so much at stake, players and coaches tend to empty out every possible emotion and ounce of energy, all in the spirit of winning the Cup.
But to this point? It’s all meaningless. The real test begins now.
“Meaningless” in the sense that all that work has gotten each team is a 2-2 tie. The unrelenting physicality from the Blues, the persistent toughness of the Bruins, the goaltending of Tuukka Rask, the goal-scoring avalanche of Game 3, the emotional surge from Game 2’s overtime winner, the explosion from Torey Krug’s now-famous open-ice hit, the letdown of losing Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara, the obvious impact of Vince Dunn returning to the ice … it’s all made for a marvelous first four games of this series. But it hasn’t decided a thing.
For as hard as both teams have worked to this point, they’re going to have to work even harder for any of it to matter.
That’s precisely what makes this time of year so compelling and so captivating. It is precisely why we all hold the Cup in such esteem.
And while the Bruins and the city of Boston at large was no doubt disappointed by Monday night’s result, we can all find solace in the fact that, at the very least, we are all guaranteed to see a series that is shaping up to be a classic.
Game 5 will be an unbelievable evening in Boston. Before that, let’s hit some leftover thoughts from the Blues’ 4-2 win in Game 4.
–We’re going to talk about the three Blues goals (empty-netter excluded) from the Boston perspective, and we’re going to pick some nits. But we’re also going to look at them from a St. Louis perspective, where you simply have to credit the home team for bringing an extra bit of energy and an extra burst of speed at some notable times. It very much earned them this win.
On the first goal, there wasn’t much Tuukka Rask could do after he had to hold his ground to make a save at the right post on a double deflection. The responsibility to put a body on a body fell on the Bruins skaters, but nobody was quick enough to see Ryan O’Reilly’s anticipation. The 10-year veteran saw his opportunity, twirled perfectly around the net, and beat Rask to the other post by an inch. Noel Acciari’s stick as a good six inches from the puck as O’Reilly jammed it home.
In retrospect, you’d like Acciari to have anticipated the wraparound. But it happened so quickly, it has to be filed in the “tip your cap” file.
The other two goals, I broke down in detail here. You could criticize the Bruins for losing track of Vladimir Tarasenko and then O’Reilly, and you’d be right. But you’d also have to credit those two players for finding a soft spot, beating everyone to that spot, and finishing their plays.
Playing hockey in the playoffs is difficult. The Bruins were reminded of that on Monday.
–Even if you want to get on the Bruins for getting lax on the second and third St. Louis goals, you could find solace in the two instances where luck was really on Boston’s side.
Good fortune alone (with a minor assist from Rask’s elbow) kept O’Reilly from scoring a mighty impressive shorthanded goal:
Fortune also had Rask’s back (literally) when Vince Dunn (who looked like a mix of Bobby Orr and Drew Doughty out there) whistled a slapper past’s Rask’s ear. It was a perfect shot — almost. It caught the crossbar.
The tide rises, the tide falls.
–Lots of talk coming out of Game 3 about the Blues trying to run Rask. They kept their hands clean in this one. Pat Maroon took a whack at Rask’s chest after Rask made a save, which seemed to irk Rask a bit. But that story moved to the backburner. For now.
–Probably wasn’t the best signal early on from David Pastrnak when, after winning a race to negate an icing, he completely bailed on playing the puck, choosing instead to ready himself for some contact from Oskar Sundqvist. Maybe that’s some leftover caution from Sundqvist’s concussive hit on Matt Grzlecyk, but the month of June is no time to show fear. Pastrnak later took a heavy, high hit in the neutral zone and popped up immediately looking for a penalty call.
The lack of effort to get the puck after wining the icing race wasn’t quite at Dougie Hamilton-vs.-Alex Ovechkin level, but was noteworthy early on.
–I tweeted this video out, and boy, I wish I had not done that. It took on a life of its own.
But it had to go out because Craig Berube made his public complaints about officiating. Ergo, the calls that were made and not made were going to come under the microscope. This one happened in the first period, and while it’s possible that Charlie Coyle pinned Alex Pietrangelo’s arm to make it look like a hold, Pietrangelo did still have a grasp of Coyle after Coyle’s own arm wasn’t pinned to his body.
But, whatever, that was in the first period. As for the penalties that were called?
Coyle high-sticking: Obvious call.
Colton Parayko puck over glass: Duh.
Connor Clifton check to head: Sell job by Tarasenko, grabbing his face after reaching for contact as Clifton tried to actually slip around him, but easy to see how ref saw it as a penalty. Bruins scored while shorthanded, so call it karma.
Danton Heinen tripping: Committed the stick infraction, so can’t complain. But Jaden Schwartz should have gone, too, for losing control of his right leg after getting whacked in the left knee.
Jay Bouwmeester high-sticking: Duh.
Bouwmeester and Torey Krug matching minors with 26 seconds left: Who cares?
Everything else was pretty much fair game. Sammy Blais got a free pass to punch Noel Acciari after a board battle that left Blais stickless, and the general, standard-fare rough stuff was allowed to take place. The embellishment from Tarasenko and Schwartz (and Jordan Binnington) will be talked about, but, much to Charlie Conway’s dismay, that is a real part of the game these days.
So, did Berube’s message have an effect? Not really. Referees Gord Dwyer and Chris Rooney called seven penalties in Game 4; that same duo called … seven penalties in Game 2. There wasn’t a ton of judgment involved in the calls. David Backes is going to lobby for things to change, but the officiating has been the officiating. Not a major story line.
–It is absolutely bizarre that three times this series, a goaltender has made exactly 34 saves and lost the game. Binnington made 34 saves in a Game 1 loss. Rask made 34 saves in a Game 2 loss, and then made 34 saves in a Game 4 loss.
Outside of Game 3, when Binnington made just 14 saves before getting pulled, the goaltender to make more saves has lost the game. It’s probably why we don’t want to put a whole lot of value in that whole “win-loss record” thing that we attach to goaltenders.
–The fourth line didn’t score for Boston, which means perhaps the top two lines may have wanted to contribute. Alas, outside of the Brandon Carlo shorthanded goal (excuse me, the WHAT?!), the Bruins didn’t get much out of their top six.
Pastrnak, who spent time on both the first and second lines, led the Bruins with four shots on goal. He had three more shots that were blocked, and two shots that went wide of the net.
But Bergeron and Marchand combined for five shot attempts. David Krejci had precisely zero shot attempts, while Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and David Backes had a combined four shots on goal.
At no point — again, outside of the shorthanded goal, which came off a rebound on a Bergeron shot — did any of those top-six forwards really challenge Binnington. Coming off a game where the rookie goaltender had been pulled, that’s not really what you need.
Again, you have to look at the St. Louis perspective, and you have to give credit to those giant redwoods in the Blues’ D corps. At the same time, the Blues only had to block seven shots, and Binnington only had to make 21 saves. It’s the Stanley Cup Final. That’s not going to cut it.
–A bit more specific here:
DeBrusk has no goals and two assists over his last six games. Krejci has zero goals and zero assists in this series. Backes has 0-0-0 over his last six. Heinen is at 0-1-1 totals over his last six games.
That such cold streaks managed to survive despite a seven-goal outburst in Game 3 sure does not look great.
Time is running out for the second line to play a part in winning a Stanley Cup.
–Lots to choose from, but this was the heaviest hit of the night:
It is kind of fascinating, seeing the transformation of the Bruins on the game’s biggest stage. Nearly a decade ago, they were the big, bruising, badass team that was suffocating the highly skilled Canucks. Now, the 2019 Bruins aren’t exactly the 2011 Canucks, but they’re definitely not the team that’s throwing their bodies around like crazy in this series.
This year’s Bruins have toughness, but it’s a distinctly different brand of toughness than the one that won them a Cup in 2011. And now if they have to survive without Grzelcyk and Chara for any stretch of time, they’ll have to display a whole different brand of toughness, too.
To further a point from earlier: Winning the Stanley Cup is hard to do.
–Backes expressed displeasure with Oskar Sundqvist’s hit on Grzelcyk in Game 2, so Backes delivered a hit on Sundqvist once the Blues forward returned from suspension:
Backes, who obviously spent 10 years grinding for the Blues and five years serving as their captain, has seemingly become the least-liked member of the Bruins for St. Louisans this series. They’re all convinced he faked a high-stick to the face in Game 1 (realistically, nobody has seen an angle that shows that contact one way or another, so it’s really just people broadcasting what they want to see), and the fans in attendance went bananas when Alex Pietrangelo WWE’d Backes down to the ice after a whistle.
Meanwhile in Boston, where Backes has been harshly criticized for badly underperforming on his five-year, $30 million contract (yeesh!), the veteran forward has gained a lot of respect for embracing a new role that, to be frank, has led to him getting battered, beaten and bruised on almost every single shift.
Those changing dynamics are part of what makes sports … sports.
–Torey Krug is willing to fight giants twice his size, even if it results in him looking like this:
–Three cheers for sports photography!
–There are people out there who will make their predictions about how this series ends. They will express supreme confidence while doing so. These people are nuts.
The Bruins absolutely dominated Game 1 and Game 3. The Blues thoroughly dominated Game 2, and while Game 4 was not total domination, the Blues were by far the better team. The Bruins have home ice, but the Blues are 8-3 on the road this postseason. The Bruins are also losing bodies on the back end, something that might help offset that 15-11 goal differential that Boston has built thus far.
What’s going to happen in Game 5? I have no earthly idea. That’s why I will watch. And so will you. Hockey at this time of year is largely unpredictable. It’s best to just strap in, keep the peepers peeled, and be prepared for anything.