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The Ebb Can Beat the Flow

June 4, 2019, 10:23 AM ET [3 Comments]
Jay Greenberg
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Seen it once, seen it at least 50 times. A team gets smoking hot on the power play and rides it to a Cup on that factor practically alone. There are no gross mismatches in the cap-thinned NHL , only momentum swings in evenly-matched series decided by goals at pivotal times.

Going into this final we thought the size and mobility of the Blues defense would overcome their final series inexperience and win it in the end for St. Louis at last. But–full disclosure–have to admit at least one foot was off the bandwagon before Game Four. The Blues suddenly couldn’t kill a penalty to save Vince Dunn’s face.

Seen it once, seen it at least 49 times: Five-on-five can get you farther in a playoff than even a 40-year-old adoptive theme song. But at some point the best point guy wins.

Nevertheless, we reserve the right to change our minds–more often than even Carl Hagelin changes teams, too. Stuff happens, like a Brayden Schenn shot deflecting off Zdeno Chara’s stick up into his craggy old face, perhaps breaking it and the Bruins chances of a second Stanley Cup in this decade.

When Chara came back to the bench–but only to the bench–for the third period, we hadn’t seen such a figurative return since the 1961 epic El Cid, when the charismatic Spanish warrior was even deader than the Oilers by any February. His lieutenants didn’t clue in the troops to the devastating news, however. For the ultimate battle the next day, El Cid, now El Stiff, was propped up on his horse to lead his team into battle, mind you for inspirational purposes only.

Hokey? Hey, at various points in their history, we’ve seen the Penguins trying to win without a coach, so who’s to say? But that’s the way El Cid ended, without the audience knowing who won, exactly like this 2019 remake between Boston and St. Louis. Everytime you think you go it figured out, you get reminded that it’s too hard to figure out, so just quit, like the Bruins did after getting a huge shorthanded goal to tie the game. We mean, they didn’t consciously pack it in like the Wild did at the trading deadline, but Boston looked more worn down by the effort to get it tied than inspired.

There was blood in the frozen water, the Blues knew it and the best reason to like Craig Berube’s boys when the series began–their relentlessness–had again become the best reason to like their chances to now win a best two-of three.

With Chara’s injury everything had changed, why you should never bet on anything besides Pierre Maguire using the word phenomenal at least 10 times per every game of an 82-game schedule. Seen in once, seen it at least 48 times, one shift later, it can be a different game.

The old grey Chara ain’t what he used to be. But, with the possible exception of the Sens’ Cup chances, the Slovak remains the biggest reach in the game, arms longer than the short hands of the clock the guy continues to hold off mightily at age 42. The moat Chara has created around him, the widest maintained by any defenseman since the prime of Chris Pronger, is flooded with crocodile tears for the Bruins suddenly trying to win this without their captain.

Until now, a front row seat to this final got you the best view of a guy trying to ward off time because the Blues’ shortage of game breakers doesn’t stop them from coming, coming and then coming some more. Their task–and they chose to accept it–has been to wear down Chara. Now they only have to wear down John Moore.

Without Matt Grzelcyk, too, the Bruins are thinner back there than Bruce Boudreau’s long term chances for survival. Meanwhile, the Blues defense thickens, along with the plot. Robert Bortuzzo was the unlikely hero of a conference final contest, the kind of contribution you need here and there to get you through four rounds. But the return of Dunn adds skill, which the Blues don’t have in abundance, at least not in comparison to their energy.

Even in a spring of so many early round upsets, the longer a team survives, the harder the next round gets. So maybe the best reason of all to like the Bruins at the start of this series was the feasibility of an anvil on the back of Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis’s lone backbreaker. Seen it once, seen it at least 47 times: It can get lonely fast when secondary scoring shrivels and suddenly it’s all on one guy, even a potential Hall of Famer.

Now without Chara, it’s suddenly on Boston’s little skilled guys like Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy when the big, heavy, Blues have new life. Their best players—Ryan O’Reilly, Tarasenko and especially Alex Pietrangelo–played like it in Game Four. Having had no trouble on the road in these playoffs, winning the required one game with two shots to do it in Boston hardly is intimidating for St. Louis.

Still, the Bruins still have the better goalie in the series, a potential rallying point around Chara, plus some wise old hands like David Krejci, so far a dud in the final but nevertheless on skill and experience an X factor. ‘Ya never know. Seen it once, seen it at least 45 times. Things can change quickly.
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