ST. LOUIS — It felt a little too easy over the weekend. After the Bruins skunked the St. Louis Blues, 7-2, Saturday, some folks back in Boston started making parade plans. With another win in Game 4, the Bruins would have a chance to win the Stanley Cup on Garden ice Thursday night.
The humbled Blues punched back Monday at Enterprise Center to even this Cup Final with a 4-2 victory. The locals danced to 1980s pop anthem “Gloria” long into the Missouri night.
So now it’s a best-of-three as the Bruins try to win their seventh Cup in 95 seasons.
Game 4 was a bloodbath. Literally. Boston’s 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara took a puck to the face early in the second period and left a pool of blood on the ice when he skated off to the locker room. He returned to the bench all stitched up in the third, but lent only moral support and watched helplessly when Ryan O’Reilly put the Blues ahead for good with 9:22 remaining.
So it’s tied after four games and this has morphed into an emotional, thunderous Stanley Cup Final. Game 5 is Thursday night at the Garden and we know the series is coming back to St. Louis for Game 6 Sunday. The hockey world can only hope that Chara comes back. Better theater. More righteous and just.
In both of the Bruins defeats vs. the Blues, Boston lost a defenseman early in the game. In Game 2, it was Matt Grzelcyk getting concussed when hit from behind. Game 4 featured the bloody shot to Chara’s face. He needed stitches and probably needs dental work. None of it is good.
“They’re physical,’’ said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “We got one player out [Grzelcyk] and a player [Oskar Sundqvist] got suspended for it. Tonight a puck deflected off Z’s own stick. Sometimes there are breaks involved. At the end of the day, we’ve got to play through it. I did expect a physical series and here we are.’’
Amen. Game 4 was a rock fight in which the Bruins played from behind all night. The series increasingly feels like a war of attrition and, if the Bruins keep losing players, that spells trouble. Boston has more speed and skill, but St. Louis has the heavy metal thunder.
“We’re not sure about Z and Grizz for Game 5,’’ said Cassidy. “They may both be available. Maybe not.’’
St. Louis struck first on a wraparound goal by O’Reilly in the 43rd second of play. It was a badly needed lift for local fans shattered during Saturday’s carnage.
The Bruins tied it later in the period when Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle (like Natick’s Doug Flutie and Framingham’s Lou Merloni, it is always “Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle”) scored from the doorstep after gathering a rebound of a Chara shot. Coyle has nine goals in 21 playoff games. He scored only 12 in an 81-game season.
Boston’s feel-good moment was short-lived. Vladimir Tarasenko potted a loose rebound at 15:30 of the first. St. Louis led, 2-1 after one.
There were no penalties in the first period. This was a major victory of the Blues and their coach, Craig Berube. The St. Louis boss made a big deal out of his team being overpenalized in the first three games. It sounded strange coming from the man who piled up more penalty minutes than all but six players in NHL history during his 17-year career, but the whining worked. After getting tagged for 17 penalties in the first three games, the heavy-hitting Blues were whistle-free in the first 20 minutes.
“We’re not going to concern ourselves with the officials until they stink and go against us,’’ Cassidy had pledged before the game.
The Bruins coach was in no position to argue many of the calls. St. Louis hit harder, worked harder, and deserved the win.
In the fourth minute of the second, Brayden Schenn’s shot rode up the stick of Chara and hit him near the mouth. The 6-foot-9-inch captain went down like a sawed-off Sequoia, dropping face-first to the ice.
After a whistle stopped play, Chara got up and skated off, leaving a pool of blood behind. The videoboard over center ice flashed “Bleed Blue.” Classy.
Without Chara, the Bruins struggled to get the puck out of their own end. Boston withstood a barrage of shots, could not clear, and struggled to get off the ice.
There was a little late Bruins magic in the second.
When Connor Clifton went off for a hit to the head, the Bruins tied the game on a shorthanded goal by Brandon Carlo, thanks to some nifty work from Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. It was 2-2 after two.
Chara skated with his teammates before the third, but went to the bench and stayed. On the advice of Bruins trainers.
Big Z was just another spectator when O’Reilly put the Blues ahead.
Cassidy pulled Tuukka Rask with 1:45 left, but almost immediately, Schenn took the puck from Clifton and scored to make it, 4-2.
Cut to “Gloria,” and Don Draper celebrating in the stands.
This felt a lot like Game 2, which the Bruins lost in overtime. Boston was skating on empty by the finish.
Thursday at the Garden should be a beauty.