Lights flashed blue and white, a video on the enormous center-hanging scoreboard featured motivational messages from past members of the St. Louis Blues, and fans’ roars grew to a frenzied pitch before puck drop Saturday night at Enterprise Center. Forty-nine years after the Blues had last hosted a Stanley Cup Final game they were playing for hockey’s biggest prize, a once-in-a-lifetime treat for most spectators. The noise was energizing. Inspiring. The kind of support that can lift players to new heights.
And it did. But the team that soared on Saturday wasn’t the Blues.
The Boston Bruins, feeding off the crowd’s hostile reception and fending off the Blues’ attempts to physically overpower them, converted all four of their power-play chances and got points from 12 players in rolling to a 7-2 victory over the Blues. Defenseman Torey Krug led the way with a goal and four points as the Bruins won for the ninth time in their last 10 playoff games and took a series lead of 2-1.
They also got to goaltender Jordan Binnington for five goals on 19 shots, a stunning result against the goalie whose emergence had fueled the Blues’ rise from last in the NHL on Jan. 2 to the Cup Final. He was pulled and replaced by Jake Allen at 12:12 of the second period after he was beaten on a long shot by Krug. “I gotta be better. I gotta do a better job giving my team a chance to win,” Binnington said.
Getting Binnington out of the game — and maybe denting his confidence — were bonuses for the Bruins, who had been two for 10 on the power play in the first two games of the Cup Final. As far as they were concerned on Saturday, it was bring on the noise, bring on the wins.
“They were loud. They do a good job here. They’ve been waiting for a little bit. They definitely brought it,” Boston center Charlie Coyle said of Blues fans. “They got us excited and got us ready to play.”
Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo also was impressed by the atmosphere in the building and said it helped unite the Bruins. “We wanted to silence that as fast as we could and ultimately getting that first goal is a big part of that,” he said. “We had a lot of fun tonight and I think that was good on the bench. A lot of positivity.”
They had plenty of reasons to be happy. They killed an early penalty, David Backes withstood a thunderous hit by Blues winger Sammy Blais, and they converted their first power play, a redirection by Patrice Bergeron on a long shot by Krug at 10:47 of the first period. “They got the power-play goal that gave them momentum for sure,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We had trouble breaking the puck out of our own end for a little bit. That caused some issues.”
The Bruins’ relentless forechecking had a lot to do with that.
A one-goal lead became two at 17:40, when Coyle took a pass from Marcus Johansson and shot on the fly from the right circle, and a two-goal lead became three with 10 seconds left in the opening period, on a shot by Sean Kuraly from just above the left circle. The Blues challenged the call, contending it was offside, but it was declared a good goal after a review and the Blues got a delay-of-game penalty for the unsuccessful challenge. The Bruins capitalized on that advantage on a backhander by David Pastrnak 41 seconds into the middle period, thoroughly deflating whatever small hopes Blues fans might still have had.
The Blues cut the Bruins’ lead to 4-1 at 11:05 of the second period, when a shot by Ivan Barbashev deflected off a Bruin and past Tuukka Rask at 11:05 of the second period. Fans dared to be hopeful again but then Krug’s wrist shot made it 5-1 and sent Binnington to the bench, though his teammates didn’t blame him for the loss. “I don’t think we played well enough in front of him,” Blues center Ryan O’Reilly said. “He made some huge saves early that gave us a chance. We just didn’t play our usual selves the way we defended, and that’s hard on any goalie.”
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko ended the Bruins’ streak of 21 straight penalties killed when he blasted a shot off Carlo and past Rask at 5:24 of the third period, but the Bruins — who had barely mustered any offense early in the third — clinched this one with empty-net goals by Noel Acciari and Johansson.
The awakening of the Bruins’ power play and the revival of the previously quiet Brad Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line doesn’t bode well for the Blues. “Special teams are so, so important, especially this late in the season,” Pastrnak said, praising the performance of the power play and penalty killers but adding the Bruins know they can’t become complacent. “We know we need to come even better next game,” he said. “I still think we haven’t played our best.”