By: Jesse A. Cook (Sports Editor)
After a grueling seven games, the St. Louis Blues have claimed their first Stanley Cup victory. Conn Smythe (Playoffs M.V.P.) winner Ryan O’Reilly played masterfully throughout the postseason, scoring 23 points in the playoffs (eight goals and 15 assists) to ensure a long-awaited moment of glory.
Aside from the Bruins unleashing an absolute barrage of shots (37) on Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington, the most astounding and exciting part of the opening night was Boston defenseman Torey Krug’s massive hit on St. Louis center Robert Thomas. After Blues’ left winger David Perron threw Krug to the ice with force, wrapping his stick around Krug’s neck, almost garroting the 5’9” defenseman, Krug tore down the ice with intent to demolish the first opposing player he saw… which he did.
Right winger Vladimir Tarasenko extended his point streak to seven games with a top-shelf shot, after a feed right in front of the net, but that was not enough as the Bruins took the one-game lead in the series, winning 4-2.
The overtime game took many twists and turns, including three hits from the Bruins’ Noel Acciari and three hits from the Blues’ Ivan Barbashev. Every regulation goal came in the first period of play, three occurring within six minutes of each other. Ultimately, the Blues came out on top after a lucky shot from the point from Blues’ defenseman Carl Gunnarson, winning 3-2, and tying the series at one game apiece.
Let’s just say it, sometimes the Blues are terrible. 7-2 says enough. The Bruins proved how crucial their depth can be, with each goal coming from a different player (Krug, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, Acciari, David Pastrnak, and Sean Kuraly). With a combined 30 penalty minutes shared between the two teams, the Bruins took the easy win and regained the series lead, 2-1.
Let’s just say it, sometimes the Bruins are terrible. Binnington only faced 21 shots, most of which were weak lobs from the point or 1% shots from the red line. St. Louis hit harder and their offense performed exponentially better. St. Louis left winger Barbashev laid in six hits on the Boston skaters, leading to a brutal physical performance, earning Game 4’s victory of 4-2, as well as a deserved playing of “Gloria,” by Laura Branigan.
Veteran defenseman Captain Zdeno Chara also placed an air of uncertainty around the city of Boston after taking a Tyler Bozak wrist shot off of his own stick to the face, breaking his jaw. Despite the injury, Chara would play the rest of the series.
Here’s where the St. Louis championship comes tainted:
St. Louis leading 1-0 midway through the third period, the puck in the Blues’ offensive zone, Blues’ center Bozak swept his stick under the skates of Bruins’ center Acciari, tripping him from behind and throwing to the ice. Almost everyone in T.D. Garden, including Bozak, turned to referee Kelly Sutherland looking for the objectively obvious penalty call. Sutherland remained silent, a now-injured Acciari lay hunched over on the ice, and the play continued, resulting in an essentially shorthanded effort from Boston. The lack of a fifth skater led to a breakaway from Perron and split Rask down the middle, slotting a five-hole goal to ensure the Blues’ win.
Jake DeBrusk sniped a goal bar-down later in the period over Binnington’s stick-side, but the onslaught of Bruin shots would not be enough to overcome the non-call and the Blues took the game 2-1 and the series-lead 3-2.
Also, David Krejci’s selfless defense led to him saving a point-blank shot while Rask lay sprawled out after a difficult save, but the Blues came out on top, leaving the clean ice with a dirty lead.
With an early goal from banner left winger Brad Marchand over Binnington’s glove side, the Bruins held a 1-0 lead for most of the game. Desperate to steal the game in St. Louis and take the series back home to Boston for Game Seven, the Bruins needed to cushion that lead. They did.
2:31 into the third period, Bruins’ defenseman Brandon Carlo fired a bouncing blast, bumbling over outstretched sticks and etched ice to finally reach the blue goaltender’s crease, turning wide right of the net. However, Binnington stuck out his right pad and the unpredictable puck leaped off the ice and ricochet off the inside of the Blues’ goalie’s pad and into the waiting net.
Not long after, rookie center Karson Kuhlman, who had been added to the Boston lineup that morning, sniped a line drive high and stick side to push the two-goal lead to three.
After 9 minutes and 45 seconds of play, and one Blues’ goal from star center O’Reilly and two Bruins’ goals from the speedy Pastrnak and Chara, the Bruins’ had notched a 5-1 win in the penultimate game of the season to tie the series three games apiece.
After an early blast from Blues’ defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, the hopes of the home city’s third sports championship in a year looked grim for Boston. The shot came from the point and trickled through two players in front of Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, slicing of the bottom-side of O’Reilly’s stick, then through Rask’s five-hole.
Rask had played masterfully throughout the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs, notching his 50th career Stanley Cup Playoffs game win in Game Six and earning him incredible support for the Conn Smythe Award. Unfortunately, his incredible play stopped in Game Seven and win number 51 eluded him and will have to wait for another year.
The first period saw one more goal from Captain Alex Pietrangelo and the third saw goals from Brayden Schenn and New England-native Zach Sanford. Despite a goal from returning Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk with 2:10 left, the classic Boston flare for a comeback was merely a fevered dream for this Game Seven and the Blues took the season finale 4-1.
A blown call in Game Five added a crucial loss to the Boston record and handed St. Louis a contaminated title, riddled and rife with the writhing ruddy wrongs of referee refuse, robbing the ruined Bruins of their rightful rings which the red-faced rule-enforcers forced them to reluctantly relinquish. And thus St. Louis takes a series title, with only three real wins to Boston’s rightful four.
To the Blues’ credit, they were the worst team in the National Hockey League on January 3 of this season and they made it all the way back to finish first among the 31 teams.
After hours of hard-hitting action that knocked countless players off the ice due to injuries and suspensions, the Blues claimed victory over what is often referred to as “the toughest playoffs in sports,” and the N.H.L. will look to the 2019-2020 season for more excitement.