Big, bad Blues have stolen Bruins’ identity to take Cup Final lead


Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson, the connection that created “The Goal” in 1970, were the Bruins’ banner captains Thursday before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden.

The two Bruins legends probably stuck around to watch the Bruins lose 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues and fall behind in the series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday in St. Louis.

One has to wonder if they recognized the team wearing black and gold. The “big, bad Bruins” are dead; long live the “big, bad Blues.”

The Bruins came out flying for Game 5, inspired not just by a return to home ice at TD Garden but the appearance of their captain Zdeno Chara, facial injury protected by a full shield an jaw protector, in the lineup and in the thick of the battle, starting with his hit on Brayden Schenn at the 15-second mark.

Chara’s ability to battle through his injury and last 16:42 of ice time was toughness personified, and his teammates all talked about how inspiring it was to see him next to them on the bench and on the ice. So why didn’t they follow his lead and play a mean game? Why did they let the Blues push them around?

It’ll be easy to point to the “egregious” missed tripping penalty by Tyler Bozak on Noel Acciari and say the Bruins lost the game there. After all the play led to a goal and Boston lost by one. Ivan Barbashev’s head shot on Marcus Johansson was hard to miss (but was), as was Zach Sanford’s elbow to Torey Krug’s head.

The whistles didn’t come and each one was a tough break. The best way for the Bruins to respond would’ve been to use the missed calls as motivation to get their offensive game in gear. The second best way would’ve been to retaliate. They didn’t have to throw an elbow for every elbow, or a headshot for every headshot. They don’t want to wind up spending the game in the penalty box.

But how about a shove here, a facewash there? When David Pastrnak is stopped by Jordan Binnington on a wraparound try and then hauled down in a sleeper hold by Colton Parayko, there has to be a Bruins player jumping into the pig pile. After whistle in the St. Louis end has to be followed by a scrum, especially when Binnington freezes the puck. The Bruins should be trying so hard to get in Binnington’s face that the only thing that stops them from making contact with him is a Blues player getting in the way. A goalie interference penalty wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if it made life more difficult on Binnington. The Blues’ runs at Tuukka Rask set a tone that might be paying off now, but the Bruins haven’t been as equally forceful.

John Moore landed a perfectly placed shot from the blue line on Binnington and one of the multitude of rebounds sat there in the slot in the third period. One, two, three Bruins bodies were sent to the ice in pursuit of the puck while the Blues gained possession and cleared it out of danger.

The Blues are playing tough and angry. They’ve been counted out at every turn, from the time they were in last place in the Western Conference in January through falling behind the San Jose Shark and the Bruins 2-1 in consecutive series. They have something to prove.

The Bruins have been through enough adversity to know what it takes to overcome difficult obstacles like bigger teams that play with a grudge and missed calls. But instead of harnessing their rage, the Bruins are too even-keeled. It’s almost as though their experience is working against them and their expecting what’s gotten them by in the past to just come through. They outshot the Blues 39-21 for the game after outshooting them 17-8 in the first period. Not enough of those shots came with bodies in Binnington’s grill or off loose pucks in and around the slot. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Pastrnak are all still searching for a first even-strength point in this series. None looks all that pissed about it.

Any pain the Blues will be feeling Friday morning will be self-inflicted. Allegedly the Bruins outhit them 43-34, but the eyeball test tells you the Blues were the team with the physical advantage just as they’ve been in each of their wins. It’s not just about doling out punishment on the forecheck, it’s about getting to those rebounds in front and winning board battles on the side.

“Well they’ve got long sticks and big defensemen and other times it’s timing,” said Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk whose goal while playing on the fourth line was his first even-strength point of the series. “It’s just, sometimes you need it to bounce your way and sometimes it just doesn’t. That’s kind of how it felt tonight. I think there were lots of chances, we even got some looks and that’s when their goalie made some saves.”

The best way to overcome horrid officiating is to make sure it doesn’t come back to bite you. That means scoring more than one goal against a very getable goaltender. That means crashing the net so those bounces have a better chance of going your way. It’s about making sure the tackles in the scrums and the slightly late hits on the forecheck come with an equal response that will make sure there’s an even amount of pain to both sides.

No one’s looking for a Terry O’Reilly-like performance out of any member of the current Bruins. However, a “big, bad Bruins” performance relative to the times would’ve made Chara’s participation in Game 5 more worthwhile. And through five games against the Blues we’re left wondering if we’ll ever see anything close to a big and bad game from the franchise that once defined that term.

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