ST. LOUIS – There was never any guarantee the Boston Bruins were going to force a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final, largely because they’re severely banged up and running on fumes. What was a 100 percent, ironclad assurance, however, was that these wounded bears would not go quietly into the night.
There is too much pride, too much experience, too much character for the Bruins to not at least go down swinging. If the St. Louis Blues were going to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history Sunday night, they were going to have to earn the privilege. And that’s exactly as it should be. So now we have a Game 7 in this heavyweight brawl between Apollo Creed (played by the Bruins) and Rocky Balboa (played by the Blues). The only thing left to be determined if it’s the ending from Rocky or Rocky II.
The Bruins have been getting some great depth contributions, but it was time for their veterans to take the wheel. And two of them did in Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask, one with his words, the other with his actions. Prior to the 5-1 victory, Bergeron stood up and gave what was, by all accounts, a spine-chilling speech. And Rask went out and cemented his Conn Smythe Trophy credentials with a performance for the ages. He stopped 12 shots on the penalty kill and crushed the Blues’ spirits.
First, Bergeron. The Bruins’ alternate captain speaks softly and carries a two-way stick. He is economical with his words and did not waste a single one when he spoke from the heart before Game 6. “He stepped up big-time,” said Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. “It was exactly what we needed. It was. It was an element of what the dream is. Growing up, every one of us shares the same dream. We were all little kids once and we all wanted this bad and I think it was just an element of savoring this moment and not letting it end tonight. When he talks, you listen. That’s the presence he has.”
And speaking of presence, the guy in the net has a certain amount of that, too. The last time the Cup was in the building in a Game 6, Rask gave up two goals in 17 seconds to turn what looked like a trip to Game 7 into a six-game loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. There are some Bruins fans who will never let him forget that and others who wanted to see him run out of town early in the season. Not that Rask needs redemption, but there probably aren’t too many people who feel that way now. “Best player, he’s our best player,” McAvoy said. “He has been all playoffs and all regular season. We know that when he plays like that, to the best of his abilities, and we do our jobs in front of him, he’s going to be there, he’s going to be that stone.”
There are times when a goalie doesn’t have to steal games in the playoffs, but he can’t lose them, either. And there are times when a team requires that epic, otherworldly goaltending in order to advance. Rask has provided that a number of times in these playoffs. The Conn Smythe awaits. In fact, even if the Bruins lose Game 7 of this series, Rask may have already given the Conn Smythe engraver reason to burn it into his or her memory that Rask has two U’s and two K’s in his first name.
“If you don’t get goaltending, you don’t win very often,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’re no different than anybody else. We supported him eventually with some goals and we got one early and I think that helps everybody. Good for Tuukka. He’s allowed us an opportunity to play in a Game 7 and the whole hockey world loves a Game 7. It should be a great night in Boston and may the best team win.”
Indeed. Can the Blues come back from this and win in enemy territory? Absolutely, particularly given the fact that road teams are 4-2 in this series. It just was not going to happen Sunday night. Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron and the rest of the Bruins were simply not going to allow it. “We’re a family,” McAvoy said. “We all believe in each other and we love each other. Just the thought of it being over (Sunday night) was terrifying.”
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