BOSTON – With the exception of the day goalie Jordan Binnington first stepped into their dressing room, it could be argued that the hand pass that led to them losing Game 3 of the Western Conference final in overtime was the best thing that could have happened to the St. Louis Blues.
Now it’s up to the Boston Bruins to take a page from the Blues’ book when it comes to dealing with the incompetent officiating that has hijacked the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins had every right to be livid after referee Kelly Sutherland watched Tyler Bozak of the Blues trip/slew foot Noel Acciari of the Bruins, then keep the whistle in his pocket, a decision that led directly to the winning goal in Game 5 of the final. If you recall, the Blues were pretty hot when all four on-ice officials missed the hand pass by the San Jose Sharks’ Timo Meier that led to St. Louis’ Game 3 loss. The Blues slammed their sticks, their fans threw debris on the ice and GM Doug Armstrong pounded on the door of the officials’ room and called the missed call “(expletive) garbage.”
But by the next day, the Blues had put the controversy behind them, put their heads down and went to work. Instead of allowing a terrible non-call to derail their playoff run, they went out and won the next three games, outscoring the Sharks 12-2 to earn their spot in the Stanley Cup final. Blues coach Craig Berube made a point of saying his team had moved on and his players were in lockstep with their coach. The matter was closed.
Like the Blues, the Bruins were entitled to their moment of believing they were screwed. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy unloaded on the league and its officials, alleging that complaining by Blues coach Craig Berube about the officiating earlier in the series has changed the complexion of the way the games are being called. He said the officiating in the playoffs has been a “black eye” for the league.
But now it’s up to Cassidy to show the kind of leadership the Bruins need if they’re going to win the next two games and take this series. So often in hockey, teams take on the persona of the person behind the bench and the longer Cassidy uses that non-call as a crutch, the more his players are going to accept it as a reason for losing. The best thing for the Bruins coach to do would be to make it clear right off the hop, the way Berube did in the conference final, that his team has moved on and is preparing for Game 6.
That won’t be easy. With two days off between games, not only do the Bruins have 48 hours to stew about what happened, but they’ll be bombarded with questions about the officiating. This is the time for the Bruins at every level, from management to players to coaches, to adopt a company line. “We’ve got a good group here that doesn’t hang their heads and we’re just going to continue to try to move forward,” said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. “We don’t let those things bother us.”
It’s a cliché, but at this point it really is all about being concerned with the things you can control. The Bruins have zero input or effect on how the game is going to be called. But they most certainly can stop making superfluous passes in the offensive zone in an effort to create an oil painting with almost every scoring opportunity. They can go harder to the net. They can have better communication in the defensive zone and not get caught with two defensemen behind their own net. Their top two lines can start playing a lot better 5-on-5 and being more dangerous. Those are very real deficiencies in their game that they are fully capable of addressing.
Can the Bruins go into St. Louis and steal Game 6 to bring the series back home for Game 7? They absolutely can. It’s exactly what they did in the first round when they were down 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We’ve done it before,” Krug said. “There’s a lot of different ways we’ve won series, won hockey games and it’s just another test for this group. We haven’t done anything easy this year. We’ve put ourselves against the wall a lot this season, so it will be another test. I think we will be ready to go.”
But in order to do that, they’ll have to put their feelings about what happened in Game 5 where they belong, in the rear-view mirror.
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