The Blues' aggression has backfired. Do they have what it takes to clean it up and still outlast the Bruins?
By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
St. Louis was supposed to be a place of celebration on Saturday night. The Bruins promptly spoiled that party. And now that Boston's top line and power play have woken up, what exactly are the Blues supposed to do?
The Blues' best chance against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final is to suffocate their time and space and grind them down with their physicality. Apparently, part of their plan has also been to hit guys as hard as possible with an eye on attrition.
Taking out Matt Grzelcyk for Game 3 didn't work. Sammy Blais' high hit on David Backes avoided discipline since he didn't injure the Bruins forward on the play, but in the end that didn't work. Whatever Brayden Schenn wanted to do to David Pastrnak really didn't work.
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) June 2, 2019
Not accusing the Blues of deliberately trying to injure Bruins players. But the fact is they have delivered multiple hits in the playoffs that took players out of games. Whatever the intent, they're hitting hard and sometimes crossing the line.
It backfired big-time in Game 3 on Saturday night. The Bruins punished David Perron for reverse-clotheslining Brandon Carlo, the Blues' staff for losing an offside challenge, Colton Parayko for giving Brad Marchand a stick to the face, and Alex Pietrangelo for a garbage-time slash on Noel Acciari, and went a perfect 4-for-4 on the power play. They also covered for their own lack of discipline with a 4-for-5 night on the penalty kill in a special teams clinic.
Perron, by the way, didn't do himself any favors when he tangled with Tuukka Rask. He continued the Blues' theme of engaging physically with Rask a little too much. Perron was lucky to draw a matching minor from Connor Clifton.
David Perron pushes Tuukka Rask across the crease and then hits him in the head a few times. Dirty pic.twitter.com/NciJUuPDt2
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) June 2, 2019
The Blues needed so much to go their way just to get to overtime in their Game 2 win. One of those things was the Bruins' power play going cold, and it was ugly for Boston. But the B's couldn't have looked better in Game 3. Now it leaves the Blues wondering how to win if they're going to get decimated when down a man.
St. Louis needs a new plan - but unfortunately for them, they may not be able to devise one that's sustainable enough to win the series.
It appears that Blues head coach Craig Berube has incorporated lobbying for fewer penalties into his strategy. Asked whether he's seeing any commonality between all the penalties the Blues have taken, he did admit that they've lost some of their discipline at times. But Berube also believes the officials are calling the games too tightly.
"There’s a few things. First of all we were the least penalized team in the league in the first three rounds, and now all of a sudden we’ve taken 14 penalties in one series, so - I don’t know," Berube said on Sunday. "I don’t buy into all that, to be honest with you. I think we can definitely be more composed after the whistle. I think we’ve let some frustration get in there, where we maybe do too much after the whistle. So we’ll clean that up for sure. But like I said, we were the least penalized team coming into this series, so I don’t agree with all the calls."
Staying out of the penalty box should be at or near the top of the list for the Blues now. It's not likely that they're stuffing that genie back in the bottle. The Bruins' power play capabilities are closer to their Game 3 dominance than their Game 2 dumpster-fire. So cleaning it up a bit is imperative for St. Louis.
But even when that happens, do the Blues really have enough firepower to win that way? It's not like they lacked a forecheck or scoring opportunities in Game 3. They actually generated more 5-on-5 high-danger chances (per Natural Stat Trick) than the Bruins with a 9-5 edge. But they couldn't find a way to finish, so instead the Bruins improved to 4-5 in the playoffs when losing the 5-on-5 HDC battle.
Obviously, the game was well in hand for many of the Blues' scoring chances after the Bruins had called off the dogs. But the Blues had their chances to make the game more interesting. There are multiple reasons that they couldn't.
Part of it is that most of the guys with some semblance of scoring touch - Jaden Schwartz, Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, Alex Steen, Perron - didn't generate nearly enough of those chances. Those aforementioned five players combined for nine shot attempts and four scoring chances. Another reason is that their top guys - namely, Vladimir Tarasenko and his four scoring chances - couldn't solve Rask. And their attempts to get under the goalie's skin haven't come close to making a John Tortorella dent.
Quite the save by Tuukka Rask on Vladimir Tarasenko pic.twitter.com/7eFBMqk4ij
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) June 2, 2019
This has been a theme of the entire series - even Game 2. The Blues have relied on puck luck to score because they lack the forward depth of the Bruins. They needed a deflection off Grzelcyk and an egregious defensive breakdown to score the first two goals of Game 2, then needed a puck off Charlie McAvoy's skate and Carlo's crotch to get past Rask in Game 3.
The Bruins just proved that as long as they wake up and play their best game, especially the top line, they should win every time. St. Louis played a borderline perfect Game 2, and that may have been their best punch in the series. And it's important to note the ebbs and flows of the Stanley Cup Playoffs - remember that the Bruins went down 2-1 in their first two series before battling back. The Blues may yet knot things back up in Game 4 on Monday night at the Enterprise Center.
But it sure looks like they're not going to have enough offensive push to keep pace with the Bruins over the course of a seven-game series. Especially if they're going to have to abandon their recklessly physical ways, because they can't afford to burn themselves again.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].