Sometimes, home ice is no advantage at all.
Saturday night marked the first Stanley Cup Final contest in St. Louis in nearly 50 years. It felt like a momentous occasion with a fittingly electric atmosphere. Those in attendance gasped and roared as the teams exchanged bone-rattling checks, and the hosts fed off the crowd’s energy. Perhaps too much, though. They were dialed into every aspect of the fans’ disposition: the boundless excitement…and the inescapable nerves.
In the end, the Blues couldn’t harness their own storm. They lost their heads and consequently lost Game 3 by an unsightly score of 7-2. Instead of presenting the Boston Bruins with a united front of sandpaper and two-way savvy, St. Louis was foiled by its blood lust. Each pound of flesh came at the expense of its structure and discipline. The Blues came out with a burr under their saddle and never really settled down to tap into their identity, punching themselves out early and allowing Boston to feast on the scraps.
Brayden Schenn, Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo spent more time lunging at Bruins than playing Blues hockey. They kept looking for the knockout blow when the team typically wins through volume. Meanwhile, David Perron and Patrick Maroon were more focused on post-whistle shenanigans and trash talk than anything else.
Throughout the evening, it was almost like St. Louis was so locked into the idea of intimidating the Bruins that it was uncomfortable when it actually had the puck.
On the flip side, Bruce Cassidy’s men showed great patience amid the chaos. They let the opportunities come to them, controlling 69.2% of the shot attempts and 80.0% of the scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the first period. St. Louis kept racing out of position and paying the price for its aggressiveness, as the Bruins established an insurmountable 3-0 lead after the opening frame.
Though St. Louis’ underlying numbers were tremendous in the final two periods, that boils down to score effects. Boston was simply playing out the clock, whereas the Blues were furiously plugging away to close the gap. Unfortunately for Craig Berube’s squad, it doesn’t boast the kind of firepower to win in spite of glaring mistakes. It relies on cohesion, grit and fundamentals. On this night, it dug itself into a hole it couldn’t climb out of, as Boston capitalized on St. Louis’ lapses over and over again.
The Bruins’ second goal of the game was a prime example of St. Louis’ sloppiness.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 2, 2019
In a 3-on-3 situation through the neutral zone, Blues winger Sammy Blais races toward the puck-carrier (Charlie Coyle) rather than maintaining sound positioning. With that forward momentum, he’s now placed himself in an unnecessary do-or-die situation: If he can’t slow Coyle’s progress, Boston will enjoy an odd-man rush. He fails, ends up on the wrong side of the puck and can only watch as the Bruins’ offense steams ahead. Jay Bouwmeester grants Marcus Johansson an open passing lane to Coyle and Jordan Binnington can’t sprawl across his crease quickly enough to bail his team out.
St. Louis turned a harmless sequence into a devastating one. That was the prevailing theme for the Blues, who continually cut themselves off at the knees with their over-the-top aggressiveness and horrid decision-making.
Those poor choices resulted in penalties too. As we know, that’s unforgivable against Boston’s lethal top-ranked power play (35.9 PP%). It hadn’t been firing on all cylinders lately, but it can rattle off a flurry of goals out of nowhere. In Game 3, it went an astonishing 4/4, using the home team’s zeal against it by drawing defenders away from the slot and attacking that same area once it was vacated.
David Pastrnak’s back-breaking 4-0 goal came 41 seconds into the second period and had many wondering where the real St. Louis Blues had gone.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 2, 2019
Bouwmeester and forward Ivan Barbashev are battling for the puck in the corner when weak-side defender Bortuzzo decides to join the fray. With only four skaters on the ice, that’s a risky proposition. Since Tyler Bozak is focused on his point man (Torey Krug), no one takes Pastrnak, who creeps from a quiet spot right to Binnington’s front door. Due to Bozak and Bortuzzo’s tunnel vision, the biggest threat (Pastrnak) remains open for so long that the puck moves east-west at the blue line, then down to the slot and the sniper still has the room to dangle Binnington out of his shorts and tuck home a sweet backhand.
The worst part of St. Louis’ lousy performance is that it granted Boston’s best players an opportunity to bounce back under favorable conditions. Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combined for five points — all on the power play — and surely can’t wait for Game 4 now that their confidence has returned.
Boston’s depth is truly formidable this season. It becomes even more of a factor when the big guns are delivering the goods as well. The team seems to follow their lead with crisp movement and feverish puck pursuit. Those traits have been sorely missing from the Bruins’ game, but racking up seven goals on Saturday night should point the first line in the right direction. Beyond the man advantage, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak owned 73.3% of the shot attempts and 66.7% of the chances at even strength. Their influence tends to increase as a series progresses, and they’ve planted the seeds for a major turnaround.
Obviously, that spells trouble for the Blues.
If they can channel their composure once more and stick to their plan of attack, they can tie things up and turn the Stanley Cup Final into a best-of-three. But if they let desperation take over, Boston will pick them apart. With Tuukka Rask (1.91 GAA, 93.9 SV%) in his groove and the highest HDGF% (70.0) in the playoffs, the Bruins are built to protect their house and pounce on the ensuing openings. They’re too experienced to allow a raucous crowd under their skin.
St. Louis couldn’t say the same in Game 3. Running on its own crowd’s adrenaline, it totally abandoned the slow and steady in favor of the fast and loose.