If you can’t beat them, maim and murder them.
That seems to be the St. Louis Blues’ philosophy in the Stanley Cup Final.
Luckily for the Bruins, they were wise to the Blues’ approach to game 3 on Saturday in St. Louis and both escaped without a serious injury caused by a Blues player (Charlie McAvoy’s left-knee blocked shot aside) and a 7-3 victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead.
game 4 in Monday still in St. Louis.
From start to finish the Blues, who famously knocked out three of San Jose’s best players in the Western Conference final, decided to continue the over-the-top physicality they displayed while accumulating 50 hits and concussing Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in a 3-2 overtime win in game 2.
It took just 44 seconds for Sammy Blais to rock David Backes in the corner with what looked like a headshot that went unpenalized.
David Backes gets rocked by Sammy Blais. pic.twitter.com/UpEUuYprl6
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) June 2, 2019
Brayden Schenn tried to decapitate David Pastrnak later in the first period.
— NHL Prospects Watcher (@Prospects_Watch) June 2, 2019
David Perron got into Tuukka Rask’s face early in the third period. And even as the Bruins were sealing their victory with Noel Acciari’s empty-net goal, Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo took a slash at the Boston forward, a dirty play that with no chance to stop Acciari was clearly meant just to see if Pietrangelo could hurt Acciari.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) June 2, 2019
What might’ve started out as a strategy to knock the Bruins off their game and possibly goad them into taking penalties quickly turned into an attempt to also see how many Bruins have to wind up in the protocol or in the infirmary before the Blues have closed the talent gap enough to win this series.
For the most part, Boston didn’t take the bait.
“We did a great job not buying into that behavior or whatnot,” defenseman Brandon Carlo told the media.
Don’t think for the second the Bruins didn’t push back or cross the discipline line a couple times. The Blues outhit them just 35-29. Only Jake DeBrusk knows what was going through his mind when he was called for kneeing Pietrangelo not long after Blais walloped Backes.
Zdeno Chara went to the box twice, once for unsportsmanlike conduct and the other for roughing. In fact, the Bruins twice had to kill a penalty with two defensemen (and penalty killers) in the box. Both times they survived, thanks in large part to Grzelcyk’s lineup replacement John Moore, who played a strong 13:09, including 3:52 on the penalty kill. St. Louis’ lone power-play goal came with Chara in the box for roughing and on a shot that deflected in off Carlo.
By not allowing the Blues headhunter mentality to distract them, the Bruins were able to withstand the Blues’ early charge in their first home Cup Final game in 49 years. The packed crowd of Laura Branigan-craving rooters, and the pregame rally cry of young Laila Anderson had St. Louis in a frenzy, and that early power play on the DeBrusk kneeing call could’ve put the Bruins in a hole.
Leaning on their experience, the Bruins calmly killed the penalty, and then punched the air out of the crowd with a power-play goal of their own from Patrice Bergeron.
From there the Bruins continued to play the game they wanted it played, while sidestepping and bracing for whatever physical punishment the Blues were doling out instead at the expense of them playing hockey.
Bergeron’s line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak got back on track, scoring on the power play (Pastrnak also got a man-advantage goal), creating havoc in the St. Louis zone (Marchand drew a crucial penalty in the second period) and playing tougher defense on the Blues’ top line of Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.
Most importantly, the Bruins’ forwards supported the defensemen more than in either of the first two games of this series. No play better epitomized that fact than Charlie Coyle’s goal at 17:40 of the first period, which gave Boston a 2-0 lead. The play started below the Boston goal line, where Coyle won the puck while helping out defenseman Charlie McAvoy, and then sidestepped a check before going off to the races with linemates Danton Heinen and Marcus Johansson.
Joakim Nordstrom also avoided a big check from Joel Edmundson while chipping the puck out of the defensive zone before Sean Kuraly’s back-breaking goal with 10 seconds left in the first period. The Bruins grabbed a 3-0 lead on that score because they were winning battles in pursuit of puck possession, not to possess a pound of flesh.
Boston’s power-play continued to earn the nickname The Perfection Power Play (doesn’t anyone call them that?) with a 4-for-4 night on just four shots on net, and the penalty kill went 4-for-5. The only spurts of St. Louis signs of life came from turnovers by DeBrusk and McAvoy in the second period, and the Bruins’ penalties in the third. Rask was impenetrable when necessary, making 27 saves on 29 shots.
Even as the Blues turned their physicality up a level from game to game, the Bruins learned their lessons about how to counter it through their system play and their quickness. Now it’s up to the Blues to learn their lesson and try to mix in some hockey plays with their goon tactics in an effort to make this a longer series.
That is, if they think they can win without eliminating some Bruins from the festivities. Based on the past two games, their goon mentality will continue and the Bruins should be able to make this series short and sweet.
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