By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It didn’t take long for Torey Krug’s thunderous hit on Robert Thomas in Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final to be considered “iconic.”
People are already talking about framing the picture of a helmet-less Krug decking Thomas, and how it will be looked at as the turning point of the series. Because we all know that turning points always happen in the first game of the series, of course. (And in directly related news, welcome to The Internet Age, where everything from 10 minutes ago is either old or the best.)
“It just ends up being one of those moments that people are talking about, honestly I think because his helmet was off,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy offered. “If his helmet wasn’t off, are we talking about it. It’s a hit that happens a lot in a physical series, we saw that against Columbus probably 10 times at least those big hits. It was a bit of an iconic moment because the hair’s flying and the way he fell. It’s good for hockey, I think, if they’re talked about positively.”
But the true effect of the Krug hit will not be known until the conclusion of tonight’s Game 2 at TD Garden. At least.
Now, while I won’t jump the “iconic” gun just yet, there’s already been some obvious fallout from the hit.
Thomas has already been ruled out for Game 2, even though Blues head coach Craig Berube says it has “nothing to do” with Krug’s hit on him. In Berube’s defense, Thomas has been limited in practice in recent weeks, but there’s no sense in denying that Krug’s hit worsened the 19-year-old’s health situation at the very least. That’s not a gut feeling or theory. It’s reality, as Thomas immediately went to the St. Louis bench (after a five-second shift) after the Krug hit and did not skate another shift.
It leads you to a relatively simple question: Will the Blues target Krug as payback? Honestly, if that’s their focus in Game 2, the Blues have already lost and will return home down two games to none. It’s that simple. The Bruins danced around St. Louis checks all night in Game 1, and targeting Boston’s top puck-mover seems like the best way to ensure it extends to 2-0.
It’s also not something that the Bruins necessarily expect coming into tonight’s game.
“They’re a pretty honest team St. Louis, I think they’ll finish all their checks whether it’s number 47 or or Clifton, they’re going to play hard, we expect that,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t expect retaliation, if Torey’s in a bad spot they’re going to get him, I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
But that’s really a secondary storyline. The No. 1 thing to watch here — and how it impacts this series moving forward — will be whether or not Krug’s hit changes how the Blues try to play against the Bruins.
When the Blues punched their ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 49 years, it was really on the back of what felt like some ugly-but-effective bully-hockey against the skillful Sharks. Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson was legitimately beaten out of this series on rough finishes and an intense forecheck, and the liberties taken against Joe Pavelski ultimately knocked the San Jose captain out of Game 5 and kept him on the shelf for the series-deciding Game 6 affair in St. Louis. And while a Cup Final return brings your emotions back to the Big Bad Bruins 2.0 runs of 2011 and 2013, the truth is that the Bruins are built a little bit closer to the Sharks than you’d think, and have the skill that St. Louis would love to slow down.
Perhaps no player fits the bill as a skillful, Karlsson-esque target more than Krug, too.
“Every game in the NHL, since I’ve been in the league,” Krug said when asked if he thought the Blues were trying to play headgames with him in Game 1. “I’m a 5-foot-9 defenseman. I’d probably doing the same thing if I was on the opposing team.
“I’d probably try to run me right through the boards.”
The 5-foot-9 defender decided that he was not going to get Karlsson’d, though, and spun a rough-housing sequence in his own end into a Garden-erupting hit that let the Blues know they weren’t going to back down from a challenge. That swagger spreads throughout the rest of the Boston roster, and the reaction of the Boston bench following the Krug hit said it all.
It also threw that plan of attack from the Blues out the window, and just 50 minutes and change into Game 1, no less.
So where do the Blues go from here? And perhaps most importantly, do they have what it takes to shift their game?
Skill is not foreign to the Blues. There’s no denying the skill of the Brayden Schenn line. They can torch you when given time and space. But beyond that trio, it was hard to find many St. Louis skaters who looked equipped — mentally and/or physically — for the challenges the Bruins presented to them once the rust of an 11-day break wore off in the second period.
Can St. Louis’ other players improve and make an impact on this game? With Schenn expected to draw the Patrice Bergeron matchup once again (a matchup the Bruins went away from at one point), they have to. It’s not a request, it’s a necessity. Especially with both of Boston’s even-strength goals on Jordan Binnington seeing slower St. Louis defenders looking completely lost and taking odd routes to the puck. You often see teams try to overcome that with their physicality. But again, that gets thrown out the window when the smallest guy on your team is the one punking you out (and right in front of your bench, too). Oh, and Boston scored those goals with their fourth line and third-pairing defensemen.
The Black and Gold’s speed and skill hasn’t even arrived yet, with Marcus Johansson held off the scoresheet despite a dominant performance, and when including the expected, eventual arrival of the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak group.
A combination that didn’t show any signs of being slowed down by the Blues’ physicality in Game 1.
And that was before Krug lowered the boom on Thomas.