BOSTON — Craig Berube’s bunch likes to live dangerously.
In Game 5 alone, Ivan Barbashev got away with a high hit on Marcus Johansson and Zach Sanford got his elbow up into Torey Krug’s head and avoided a penalty. Alex Steen went straight to the penalty box when he lit up David Krejci in the neutral zone with blatant interference. But Tyler Bozak wasn’t penalized for tripping up Boston’s Noel Acciari seconds before the game-winning goal.
It all left Bruins fans and coach Bruce Cassidy livid. It left the Blues one win from their first Stanley Cup.
These are Berube’s Blues all the way.
Playing a Physical Game
“We play a hard game,” Berube said after the 2-1 win Thursday night that resembled so many of his from a 1,000-game playing career with over 3,000 penalty minutes. “We’re a physical team. We forecheck hard.”
Even though the Blues were the least-penalized team in the playoffs, in the final they’ve taken on the image their hard-nosed coach had as a player. St. Louis is playing with fire with so many borderline hits — some that put Boston on the power play — but it can afford to live dangerously because toeing the line while occasionally stepping over it makes the team so hard to stop.
“That’s become our identity,” Sanford said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of finding that fine line. If we can play on that line and stay disciplined too, that’s what’s made us so successful.”
In what Berube called a “gutsy win,” his blue-collar Blues didn’t miss a single opportunity to hammer Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, playing with a significant facial injury, or anyone in Boston black and gold. The Blues have done this throughout the playoffs.
Officials in Spotlight Again
Their rough-and-tumble play put the spotlight on the officials to police Game 5 like this was the Broad Street Bullies looking for blood and bruises on every shift.
Cassidy ripped the referees for no call on Bozak midway through the second period, a borderline play at best and at worst another missed call in a post-season full of them.
“It’s blatant,” Cassidy said of Bozak play followed almost immediately by David Perron’s goal that put St. Louis up 2-0. “It had a big effect on the game. This has happened. I’m a fan of the game. It’s the National Hockey League’s getting a black-eye with their officiating in these playoffs, and there’s another one that’s going to be talked about.”
Berube talked plenty about the officiating between Games 3 and 4 but was in no mood to do so this time. Cassidy thought “the narrative change” after Berube’s complaints earlier in the series, and it’s even more different now after fans littered the ice with debris
The NHL was not throwing referees Steve Kozari and Kelly Sutherland under the bus after what it considers a judgment call.
“There are hundreds of judgment calls in every game,” director of officiating Stephen Walkom told a pool reporter. “The official on the play, he viewed it and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time.”
That plays right into the Blues’ hands. Like Berube as a player, they’re never afraid to finish a check even if it could be a penalty.
“After a while, you don’t want to be hit anymore,” Blues grinder Oskar Sundqvist said. “That’s just how we’ve been playing all season long, and that’s what we’re good at.”
The St. Louis style takes a toll on an opponent throughout the course of a game and a playoff series, and it’s doing that to Boston. Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk missed his third consecutive game after suffering a concussion on a boarding violation by Sundqvist. The Blues lost Sundqvist to a one-game suspension, but even that worked out because Sanford re-entered the lineup and has been one of the best players on the ice.
Sundqvist is not flashy but does all the little things to cycle the puck and make life difficult on opposing players. He’s part of a team effort that way that has St. Louis closer to the Cup than Berube ever was as a player.
“Simple hockey — that’s what we are. We’re a simple team,” forward Brayden Schenn said. “He obviously played as hard as anyone when he played. He fought and battled for his teammates and he wants no different in our locker room. Our guys are doing that right now.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press