Boston Bruins’ Championship DNA on Full Display in Game 6

Boston Bruins’ Championship DNA on Full Display in Game 6

Maybe the moment was too big for them. Standing one win away from their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues dropped Game 6 to the Boston Bruins by a score of 5-1 on Sunday night. The balance of play may not have been as lopsided as the result, but it wasn’t particularly close either.

A number of key Blues fell short of expectations and their failures appeared all over the scoreboard: Ryan O’Reilly took a brutal delay of game penalty to put the Bruins on a 5-on-3 power play in the first period. Boston capitalized to seize a 1-0 advantage. Rookie sensation Jordan Binnington was fooled by a bounce on Brandon Carlo’s back-breaking 2-0 tally. Alex Pietrangelo coughed up the puck at his blue line, triggering the sequence of events that would lead to Boston’s 3-0 goal. The Bruins welcomed this parade of errors with open arms.

It didn’t start that way, though.

Craig Berube’s men came flying out the gates behind a deafening home crowd. They could taste championship glory and would settle for nothing less. In the first frame, they carried a blistering pace and controlled 54.2% of the shot attempts as well as 60.0% of the scoring chances at 5-on-5. They repeatedly banged on the Bruins’ front door, but as we’ve become accustomed to this spring, Tuukka Rask (1.93 GAA, 93.8 SV%) wouldn’t let them in. The 32-year-old netminder was utterly spectacular on Sunday. His calm demeanor and razor-sharp movement set the tone for a team that bent without breaking early on.

Less than three minutes into the game, St. Louis was granted a power play opportunity. The puck squirted loose to Brayden Schenn on a net-front scramble, but Rask sprawled across the crease to deny St. Louis on what looked like a sure goal. His ability to track the puck through Charlie McAvoy and kick out laterally to smother the shot was remarkable. That’s the kind of save that takes the wind right out of the opposition’s sails.

At this point, Rask has racked up so many brilliant performances that he may well deserve the Conn Smythe Trophy even if Boston loses Game 7 at home. He’s been just that good.

Once St. Louis realized that he was dialed in, its drive wavered. It wouldn’t beat Rask on a clean bid, so it began relying on a greasier approach. The Blues were no longer shooting to score. They were looking for tips. They were hoping for a kind bounce. While they did get one on O’Reilly’s 3-1 goal, you can’t base your offense strictly on good fortune. The odds of scoring multiple lucky goals in a game are slim. On the flip side, there appeared to be no other path to victory. Rask was in his element, turning away 28 of the 29 shots he faced — including 12 on St. Louis’ man advantage alone. The Blues were confronted with a sobering reality: It wasn’t their night.

As discouraging as it is to play against Rask, it’s equally inspiring to play for him.

Boston rallied around its scintillating goaltender to preserve — and extend — the lead. In essence, the Bruins got back to playing Bruins hockey. They placed a wall of bodies in front of Rask and waited for the Blues to falter. The hosts obliged, of course, because they had to erase the deficit. From the second period onward, Boston owned 54.3% of the shot attempts and 60.7% of the actual shots for an expected goal share of 58.8%. Since St. Louis’ power play isn’t exactly fearsome (5.5 PP% in the series), the Bruins needed to contain the Blues at even strength. They did and then some. Every time St. Louis mounted a push, Boston answered with a lightning-quick strike to dampen the Blues’ spirits.

Down 2-0 in the third period, Pietrangelo batted down a puck inside his blue line. Intent on kick-starting his club’s offense rather than opting for a safe play, he attempted a pass through the middle of the ice that was disrupted by Jake DeBrusk’s stick. David Krejci hopped on the puck and showed tremendous patience and awareness to afford DeBrusk time to get onside. He then fed Karson Kuhlman and the youngster ripped a laser past Binnington from the high slot.

After O’Reilly pulled the Blues to within two, the Bruins didn’t sit on their heels and pray for the best. They got right back to business.

For some inexplicable reason, Sammy Blais refused to move the puck below his own goal line. Sean Kuraly made him pay for that gaffe by muscling him off possession and immediately dishing to Brad Marchand, who sent a clever pass to David Pastrnak for the 4-1 dagger — and his first even-strength point of the series. This was yet another display of how swiftly and clinically Boston can generate offense to stem the tide.

That pattern kept repeating itself throughout the contest: The Blues veered from their identity by trying to do a little too much, whereas the Bruins rediscovered theirs with their season on the line. The stellar goaltending, the airtight defense, the grit, the patience, the furious counterattack. They were all on full display as Boston let St. Louis do the work and then merely finished it off. Whenever the chance presented itself, the Bruins left no room for doubt to creep in and stepped on the Blues’ throat.

That’s understanding the temperature of a game. That’s weathering a storm and pouncing once it subsides. If they can channel that same structure on Wednesday night, they’ll prove that it’s championship hockey as well.