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ST. LOUIS… Well, it’s safe to say that this town is pretty revved up right about now. The STL Blues, in basically a must-win scenario did just that this eve with a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins in a very hard-fought tilt. They have evened this Stanley Cup Final series at two games apiece. Had the Blues not prevailed on this night the Bruins would be on the way to Beantown up 3-1 in the series with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup on this Thursday evening. The two clubs split in Boston and have now split the two games in STL. All games in the Final are crucial of course, but just how did this one become so hyper-critical tonight? The Blues returned to the Gateway City having lost Game One by a 4-2 tally in a game they just looked not too engaged in compared to the B’s. The Blues then took an OT win in G2 by a 3-2 final to gain the road split.
Then in G3, the first Cup Final tilt in STL since 1970, the Bruins, for lack of a better analogy, smoked the Blues like a ham hock in a 7-2 paint brushing. My summary of that game is that the Bruins have several veteran players on their club that have been in just about every conceivable high-level hockey situation you can get in. They have some younger players too, but this group sets the pace and the attitude there. Chara, Bergeron, Rask, Marchand, Backes and others elevate everyone’s play and they bring in a strong discipline that is quite necessary at this point of the tourney. That came into play in G3. The Blues didn’t match their level of play and discipline and it cost them a win. The Blues would surrender 4 PP goals on this night, a certain sign of a lack of concentration and willpower when it was most needed. And for one of the very few times since getting called up by the big club, rookie netminder Jordan Binnington has a poor outing as well.
In some games you can say that his teammates didn’t “play well” in front of him, but in this contest, Binnington was just lacking, period. He gave up 3 somewhat “iffy” goals to the B’s, and after the 1st frame it was 3-0 for the visitors. The B’s scored again 41 seconds into the 2nd on the PP, then the Blues got one back to make it 4-1. After the B’s went up 5-1 at 12:12 of the period Coach Craig Berube pulled Binnington for former number one tender Jake Allen and the game was pretty much decided at that point. This would be the very first time in his short NHL career that he has gotten the hook. There were some instances of sustained push from STL but make no mistake, this one was decided. Obviously veteran goalie Tuukka Rask for the B’s has been the best tender in the tournament to date and in comparing Binnington to the steady, consistent play of Rask, well, there is no comparison. There are times when watching Binnington is a bit nerve wracking if you are cheering for STL, it can be like being in a demo derby with 3 different vehicles converging on you at once. But then, he has saved the day on several occasions too. Saturday night I felt his positioning and timing were a bit “off” from the start of the game until he was pulled. It happens.
Sunday was an off day and some folks from the Blues and Bruins clubs as well as traveling hockey media made it over to Busch Stadium to take in a nice day and a game from one of the best baseball rivalries in MLB history with the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs squaring off. The Cards would prevail 2-1 and sweep the 3-game set, returning the favor to the Cubbies who did this to them in early May in the Windy City. Upon getting up Monday morning I was left to wonder if the Blues could make the necessary adjustments to put a better effort together. I was left to imagine if Binnington could regain his edge and get this series evened up. I constantly must remind myself that despite his age of 25 years he is still very much a rookie with a mere 56 games in the show. I guess that’s why I look at his stance at times and do not get that full feeling of confidence you get when watching more experienced goalies. You can’t deny that he is giving this tourney one heck of a ride though and just might still win it.
On this G4 night, for the first time in the playoffs this year I’m not feeling as edgy as normal. I’m not calm either, just kind of waiting for puck drop. And I don’t even have a horse in this race. The enormity of the task before the Blues was palpable. As longtime anthem singer Charles Glenn fired it up for what might have been his last appearance here, (he is retiring) it hit me. I’ve seen Charles sing the anthem many times at games, he is great, and he is very much loved by the fans here. A win tonight would get him one more appearance. Soon we were underway and at 43 seconds the Blues Ryan O’Reilly scored, and it can’t be overemphasized how important that goal was on this night. At 13:14 former Wild forward Charlie Coyle scored to tie it at one each. A little over two minutes later the Blues would push ahead on a Vladimir Tarasenko goal.
The Bruins got the only goal in the second on a Brandon Carlo shorthanded tally at 14:19. In this frame the Blues put on a furious 5 to 6 minute stretch of time in the Bruins zone and since it was in the “long change” period, the Bruins had a tough time changing skaters for fresh ones. Despite several chances the Blues could not dent Rask and I was left to ponder if this would end up being the downfall in this tilt for STL. It wasn’t. In the middle of the 3rd O’Reilly scored again for the eventual GWG, and the Blues would add an ENG for the 4-2 final. So, what happens on Thursday night? The B’s Zdeno Chara took a puck to the mouth and did not return. Will he go? If not, that could spell major trouble for the B’s.
Can the Blues stay focused and disciplined enough to take G5? They cut down from 7 G3 penalties to just 3 tonight. If so, they would have a chance to hoist the Cup on Sunday at Home in STL. I am already considering that come game time on Thursday eve, there isn’t going to be any “calm” going on. I’ll await the words of Doc Emerick of “we are underway” and I just might be pacing. Good thing I don’t have a horse in this race… PEACE