By Lou Korac
BOSTON — It was the start they wanted that carried over early in the second period, one in which had the Blues in a good spot to win their first-ever Stanley Cup Final game.
Nothing good materialized after Vladimir Tarasenko scored.
The Boston Bruins dominated the final 39 minutes of the game, scored four unanswered goals and went on to a 4-2 win over the Blues on Monday before 17,565 at TD Garden as the Blues fell to 0-13 all-time in Stanley Cup Final games.
When Tarasenko scored exactly one minute into the second period off a turnover, it gave the Blues a 2-0 lead against a Bruins team that was playing its first game in 11 days. But that was it. It was all Boston after that, and it started with a goal 1:16 after Tarasenko scored, and the Blues generated little in the way of offense against Tuukka Rask, they turned pucks over, they were disconnected on the ice and Boston pounced, led by its fourth line.
“A 2-0 lead, there was a lot of hockey and we just didn’t play our game after that,” said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who opened the scoring for the Blues in the first period and assisted on Tarasenko’s goal. “I thought we had a good start to the first period, got to our game a little bit. Then we just started getting too spread out, weren’t getting pucks in, turning pucks over, whether it was by accident or on purpose, we’ve just got to take care of the puck. They’re good off the rush, they’ve got mobile defensemen and they made the most of it.”
The Blues played the kind of period in the first they wanted, getting to pucks, sticks in lanes, and scoring first.
Schenn gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 7:23 when he was able to collect a loose puck in the slot and snap one high blocker over Rask. Rask made an initial save on Schenn, then tried to poke the puck away from the danger area but a pinching Jay Bouwmeester forced the puck to pinball around before Schenn was able to corral it.
The Blues were able to kill off two penalties, doing a good job of keeping pucks out of the danger zone areas, but it’s something they want to try and avoid in this series. Boston came into the game connecting at an incredible 34 percent in the postseason, including 7-for-15 against Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final.
Shots were 8-8 and as the road team, it’s exactly the way the Blues needed to start.
“I thought the first period was good,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “I thought we were … did a lot of good things. Second period, stopped skating, stopped moving the puck, turned it over and gave them momentum. You know, and then plus the penalties didn’t help.”
Berube’s worst fears came to fruition. The second period started off well for the Blues, as Tarasenko scored his ninth of the playoffs and extended his point streak to seven games (four goals, five assists) after Schenn picked off a David Pastrnak reverse pass behind the Boston net, fed Tarasenko in the slot and he beat Rask with a quick snap shot stick side to make it 2-0.
It was the momentum the Blues needed to begin the second, but unfortunately for them, it was all downhill from there.
Boston would get 18 of the final 20 shots in the period, the Blues took two more penalties (they didn’t like either one of them) and Boston cashed in one one of them.
But the goal that didn’t need to go in was the one by Connor Clifton 1:16 after Tarasenko scored. It made it 2-1 and brought some life back to the Bruins on a pass towards the crease to Clifton, who was crashing the net and got a step on Robert Bortuzzo. He somehow was able to chip the shot by Binnington.
After an Oskar Sundqvist cross-check, Charlie McAvoy tied it late on Boston’s fourth power play at 12:41, a shot that deflected off Alex Pietrangelo’s stick and past Binnington on the short side to make it 2-2, a period the Blues desperately needed for it to end even.
“It was more us,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “I think we kind of got away from the game, got spread out and they played the way they wanted to in the neutral zone.”
The Blues were not connected on the ice. Defensemen were trying to make longer, stretch passes from their zone, passes Boston skaters were either picking off or disrupting.
“Yeah, a little disconnected,” Pietrangelo said. “We didn’t skate probably the way we needed to. Just got a little disconnected and they’re able to take some of those passes away and create turnovers on odd-man rushes.
“They were aggressive more in the second half and I don’t think we were aggressive enough skating with the puck. It wasn’t a great combo for us, but mostly us there.”
It was a good spot nevertheless for the Blues, who were tied after two periods but were outshot 18-3 in the second period.
But once again, poor execution led to Boston’s go-ahead and game-winning goal from Sean Kuraly, who scored on a backdoor play at 5:21 to make it 3-2.
It started when Joel Edmundson’s stretch pass was picked off at center ice, and Boston entered the zone. When Jordan Binnington, who was solid with 34 saves, couldn’t gobble up Zdeno Chara’s weak wrister from the left point, the puck stayed alive to Binnington’s right, and Noel Acciari spun and whirled a puck to Kuraly at the back post, where he was able to gain position on Edmundson and score.
“They went down on that partial 3-on-2 and off the skate and in the net obviously gave them momentum,” Berube said of Clifton’s goal. “And I thought they were the better team after that.”
Berube pulled Binnington late, and everybody’s favorite pest, Brad Marchand, scored into an empty net with 1:49 remaining.
After the first period, Boston outshot the Blues 30-12 and finished 1-for-5 on the power play.
“Whatever we had, 15, 16 shots, that’s not enough,” Schenn said. “He’s a world-class goaltender [Rask]. We’ve got to be able to not only shoot more pucks, we didn’t get enough traffic around him, not enough screens. We didn’t obviously make it very hard on him tonight.
“… We just didn’t get to our game. We didn’t get it deep, we didn’t have no grind time, forecheck hard enough, we weren’t tight enough out there in five-man groups. They were able to break the puck out easy and come back in transition.”
The Blues were in a similar situation against San Jose in the Western Conference Final after losing 6-3, a game in which they never led. This one, they led by two and lost, but they feel they can regroup and come back with a better result.
“You feel like you did a lot of things, especially in the first, start of the second, but tomorrow’s a new day,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ll get ready for Game 2.”
The game already established some nastiness to it, and none was more evident than when Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, after being in a scuffling match with David Perron in front of the Boston goal for several seconds and helmetless, went barreling three zones into the Blues’ end and laid out Blues rookie Robert Thomas with a hit. Thomas didn’t return for the final 10:19.
“I see the puck going to the point and I’m trying to get body position,” Perron said. “You see some chopping on each side. I’m just trying to make as much room as I can for myself if there’s a shot so I can tip it and also trying to generate momentum for my club. When it’s not going your way, you try and so some things to change momentum. Maybe he hits you one time too many and you get in the box.”
As far as the chippiness, it’s only the beginning.
“It’s a big goal at the end for both teams,” Pietrangelo said. “We expected a good fight.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports