There was talk of officiating this series. There was talk of physical play. But something else reared its ugly head for Boston on Wednesday night: a masterful neutral zone trap by St. Louis. Now another NHL season has come and gone, and for Bruins fans, there’s no elation of another championship, there’s just the stinging disappointment of what could have been.
As Game 7 approached, one of the major keys to the game was to score first. In the previous 16 Game 7s that were played in the Stanley Cup Final, the team that scored first had a record of 11-5, now 12-5 after the Blues win on Wednesday night. The Blues are a different team with the lead than when they have to chase the game. The Bruins were the ones that had to chase the game and the Blues. The team who established their forecheck game first would win the hockey game.
The Bruins came out strong in the first period as they continuously peppered Blues goalie Jordan Binnington with shots, but the young rookie was equal to the task. The Bruins outshot the Blues 12-4 as Binnington made unbelievable saves — especially when the Bruins had the power play. The Bruins had multiple scoring chances and out-chanced the Blues with 54.55 percent of the first period scoring chances, but could not get pucks past Binnington.
Once the Blues got the lead thanks to a tip-in goal from Ryan O’Reilly, they went into lockdown mode.
This lockdown mode was even more evident after Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo made it 2-0 with eight seconds left in the first period. A mental lapse from Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who decided to head for the bench for a line change with just seconds to go in the first period, directly led Pietrangelo’s goal as Pietrangelo was able to walk right in on Rask and score.
Mental mistakes like that cannot happen in Game 7.
With the score 2-0, the game was all but over as the Blues locked up the neutral zone and did not allow the Bruins to generate speed throughout the second period. Once the Blues go into lockdown mode, they are a tough team to beat, just like the New Jersey Devils were when they won their Stanley Cups. The Blues do not give teams an inch to move out on the ice, especially through the neutral zone with a modified version of the 1-2-2 trap.
As Bruce Cassidy pointed out in his postgame press conference, the two goals late in the first period gave the Blues life, and they just fed off it and got comfortable in their defensive game which drove the Bruins nuts all series long.
“I just think it gives them life,” said Cassidy. “It gives them a lot of life. Any good defensive team, we’re both that, that has a lead has done a good job with it in this series.”
It appeared the Bruins were mentality checked out of the game once the score was 2-0, as it seemed the pressure of winning on home ice got to them. The Bruins did not do the little things right to get to Binnington, which made it an even harder to score.
“I don’t think anybody was down after the first period,” Cassidy added. “We just knew the task at hand was going to be a challenge. We had to play a certain way, and I guess we didn’t in the second period. I don’t think we played the proper way to generate offense considering the way their goaltender played in the first period.”
The Blues were terrific in their defensive zone as they limited the Bruins to no shots from the slot — as seen in the picture below from NaturalStattrick.com. The Bruins were not going to win if they did not generate scoring chances from the high danger areas plain and simple.
The Bruins did not get traffic in Binnington’s way because the Blues masterfully clogged up the neutral zone. The Blues adjusted nicely to the Bruins speed which caused chaos on zone entries. Instead of skating the puck through the neutral zone into the offensive zone, the Bruins were forced to dump and chase and against a big and physical team like the Blues that is difficult to do.
Things would have been different if the game is 1-0, instead of 2-0, as Cassidy expressed.
“It probably a different game if it is 1-0 coming out of the first I do believe that,” said Cassidy. “I wouldn’t say we would’ve won or lost, I am not a mind reader, but I do believe it gave them a lot of juice for a period that they looked at and should have felt they got outplayed, but they are up 2-0 on the scoreboard, and that is all that matters.”
You’re probably a different game if it’s 1-0 coming out of the first, I do believe that, said Cassidy. “I’m not saying that we would have won or we would have lost, I’m not a mind reader, but I do believe that it gave them a lot of juice for a period that they, you know if they looked at it objectively, probably felt or should have felt that they got outplayed, but they’re up 2-0 on the scoreboard, and that’s all that matters.”
It is hard to play against a team like the Blues once the neutral zone is taken away, especially for a team that has speed and likes to make cross-ice passed as the Bruins do. The Bruins were forced into turnovers all night and did not have what it took to win the Stanley Cup on this occasion.
While it was not the result the Bruins wanted, it was one heck of a season that nobody expected. You have to wonder if this core group has another run at the Stanley Cup in them.