BOSTON – Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup final looked downright easy at times for the Boston Bruins. Game 2, more often than not, was downright difficult, an uphill battle against a relentless St. Louis Blues forecheck. Just as the Game-1 score didn’t reflect how lopsided the play was, the Game 2 result, a 3-2 overtime win for the Blues, didn’t do the winning side justice.
The territorial play wasn’t particularly close, with the Blues outshooting the Bruins 37-23, including 4-0 in overtime, which ended when a seeing-eye Carl Gunnarsson slapshot beat Tuukka Rask on the high blocker side. The Blues’ shot-attempt share in 5-on-5 play by period Wednesday, per naturalstattrick.com: 50 percent, 54.6 percent, 62.1 percent, 100 percent. They gained more momentum with each period and got rewarded in the end.
“Especially in the playoffs, the better team always wins,” Rask said after the game.
And it didn’t always seem like things would play out that way. The Blues trailed 1-0, then 2-1 in a wild first period thanks to goals on which they left Charlie Coyle, then Joakim Nordstrom shockingly alone in the slot. The Blues took five minor penalties for a second consecutive game. The Bruins had the TD Garden crowd in the game and lively as ever thanks to a couple heavy hits on Sammy Blais by David Backes and Nordstrom. But the Blues didn’t quit, tying the game 2-2 on a dogged effort by Vladimir Tarasenko off a rebound. From the second period on, the Bruins just couldn’t shake the cement off their feet, especially during the Blues’ dominant overtime, which was really just one, long, successful forecheck.
The pain of missing out on a 2-0 lead manifested itself in the literal pain of blueliner Matt Grzelcyk, who took a hit from behind from Blues center Oscar Sundqvist late in the first period. Grzelcyk turned his back to Sundqvist and appeared to be slipping before the contact, entering a vulnerable position, but it also appeared Sundqvist saw Grzelcyk’s numbers for several strides before delivering a hit directly to the back of Grzelcyk’s head. He lay on the ice for several minutes before exiting the game on his feet and heading to a nearby hospital. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy had no additional update on Grzelcyk’s condition after the game.
Will Sundqvist have a visit with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety? It will come down to whether the DOPS believes Sundqvist could’ve avoided the head contact with Grzelcyk shifting to a vulnerable position right before the hit. If the DOPS does decide the play warrants supplemental discipline, the injury to Grzelcyk will factor into the suspension length, particularly if he’s ruled out for Game 3.
“I’d have to watch it over again, but I definitely didn’t like it,” said Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo. “I thought he kind of left his feet a little bit and got his head pretty much for the primary contact. So we’ll see where it goes.”
For Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, losing one of his defensemen and worrying about his health were troubling enough, but he was also particularly disheartened at what he felt was a lack of pushback after the Blues hurt Grzelcyk and ran Rask multiple times.
“With the hit on ‘Gryz,’ that’s one where you want to score, you want to send a message,” Cassidy said. “The hits on Tuukka, right? So we let opportunities slip away, and that’s frustrating for a coach when guys are paying the price to draw a penalty, and then you don’t at least generate momentum. So shame on us for that.”
The Bruins, who’ve iced the league’s best power play all playoffs, converted one of five opportunities Wednesday but tried too often to make the cute play and, according to Cassidy, didn’t compete with enough energy. Once again, they got some strong work from their fourth-liners, especially Nordstrom, who scored a goal and blocked two shots from bomber Colton Parayko during one sequence. But there’s no dancing around it: the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak was mostly invisible in Game 2 aside from each of them getting one clean chance late in the third, all thwarted by goalie Jordan Binnington. The Big Three have combined for one point – an empty net goal from Marchand in Game 1 – through two games of the Stanley Cup final.
“Yeah, we need to be better,” Marchand said. “Personally, I wasn’t as good the last two games, so we can’t be playing like that.”
Consider Game 2 a sobering reminder that, as bad as the Blues were for the last two periods of Game 1, they’ve come this far for a reason. They deserve to be here and, in hindsight, their response Wednesday shouldn’t have been a surprise. Suddenly, it’s the Blues with the momentum heading home for the next two games.
“You’ve got to get to the pucks first, and they did that better than us tonight, and that’s the tale of the game to me,” Cassidy said. “They won a lot of races, got more pucks than we did, had it more than we did, and I don’t think that was necessarily the case in Game 1. We won a lot of races and had it more, and we were able to make plays. You spend a lot of energy defending. That’s what we did tonight, and it caught up to us in the end.”
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