BOSTON – The Stanley Cup playoffs’ most disciplined team met the Stanley Cup playoffs’ most agitating team Monday night for Game 1 of the final. The latter side won. The Bruins, in front of their revved-up fans at TD Garden, did what they’ve done to teams time and again in these playoffs: bait opponents into Circus Mode, a chaotic, chippy, adrenaline-fuelled style of play that inflames their rivals’ tempers. Did David Backes deliberately step on goalie Jordan Binnington’s leg? Did Torey Krug charge Robert Thomas? The debate doesn’t matter at this point. Whether the Bruins got away with liberties or not, the rule we learn all the way back in tyke hockey is, “The referee always sees the retaliation.”
The Blues, averaging the fewest PIM per game in the league across Rounds 1 to 3 of the playoffs, took five minor penalties in Game 1. The Bruins took two. In 10 home games across these playoffs, the Bruins have 31 power-play opportunities. Their opponents: 26. That margin isn’t enormous, but it does favor the home squad. Instead of raving about collusion beneath our tinfoil hats, maybe it’s time to acknowledge the Bruins simply do a tremendous job sucking teams into their circus.
“As we saw last night, we weren’t disciplined enough,” said Blues center Ryan O’Reilly Tuesday after an optional off-day practice. “We kind of got away from our normal game. They do a good job of that. They’re one of the best teams at that. We started well, but you could see them, after the time off, start to find their legs, and we got undisciplined, and the game turned from there. I don’t know specifically how they do it, but it’s kind of an identity that they have that we have to avoid. We have to be stubborn within our structure.”
After laying out Thomas, even Krug, all 5-foot-9 and 186 pounds of him, joined his Big, Bad Bruin teammates in the mad-dog act, allegedly staring down Binnington.
“His pupils were pretty big – I don’t know if he was on something,” Binnington deadpanned, earning a roar of laugher from the media. “But he was pretty fired up. It was a big hit, a big play, the rink was excited, it was loud. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in.”
Were the Blues swallowed up and humbled by that atmosphere? Entering Game 1, David Perron was their lone member who’d played a Stanley Cup game, let alone won a championship. But coach Craig Berube insisted nerves weren’t the deciding factor.
“There’s always nerves,” he said. “I think there’s nerves on both sides. I thought our first period was good. We didn’t look nervous in the first period. I thought we got off good. We got that second goal, and I felt we stopped playing a little bit. We started protecting a little too much, didn’t make good plays with the puck, and that’s a good hockey team. They’re gonna keep pressing, they’re gonna keep coming, and they’re not going to sit back, that’s for sure. I thought if we would’ve kept making plays and kept getting into the offensive zone and working to get in on the forecheck, we would’ve been fine, but that didn’t happen. We ended up giving up that goal, and I felt like we were on our heels.”
The Blues really did end up back on their heels, outshot 30-12 over the final two periods and blowing a 2-0 lead. But no one can take away the fact the 2-0 lead existed. For a period, the Blues were the better team, using their size advantage and sustaining a forecheck. Now it’s simply a matter of maintaining that while staying more disciplined across a full game. The first step toward doing so is declining a ticket to the Bruins’ circus. If the Blues can do that, they’ll have a chance to buck a scary statistical trend: the Game-1 winner taking 77.2 percent of Stanley Cup finals.
“That’s why you guys do the stats and we play on the ice,” said Blues right winger Vladimir Tarasenko.