The expression is “to the winner go the spoils,” right?
The winner, not the whiner.
So why is Craig Berube enjoying the spoils of his whining?
When the Blues coach wondered aloud after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final how a team that had been the “least penalized in the league in the first three rounds” had somehow been whistled for 14 penalties in the Final’s first three games, it seemed as if he was just being a savvy coach looking for a way to deflect from the ugliness of his team’s 7-2 drubbing at home. In hindsight, however, it’s obvious Berube’s mini-tirade was a turning point in the series, not so much for how it’s been played, but for how it’s been called.
And that’s on the NHL, which continues to spend its playoff season talking as much about officiating mistakes as about hockey heroics. Maybe that made them overly sensitive. But shame on the league for being swayed by the complaints of a coach, for allowing what is said in the heat of a postgame moment or in the calculated gaps of off-day conversations to affect what happens when the players return to the ice. Don’t blame Berube. Rather, credit him if you must. He was doing what good coaches do best, speaking for players when they can’t (or shouldn’t), lest they be branded sore losers. He was sticking up for a dressing room that felt it had been wronged.
Two straight Blues wins have pushed the Bruins to the brink of extinction, and as much as the Bruins have to blame themselves for failing to score enough goals, so, too, can they look to the egregious (Bruce Cassidy’s word, not mine) missed call in Thursday night’s Game 5 loss at TD Garden. So, too, can they look at the tenor of the two games since Berube’s outburst, when the Blues channeled their heaviest-hitting selves without the same consequences they’d faced in the earlier games.
Listen to veteran David Backes, who said this after St. Louis’s Game 4 win at Enterprise Arena, before referee Kelly Sutherland swallowed his whistle on the Tyler Bozak slew foot of Noel Acciari in Game 5, the missed call that led to an easy second Blues goal: “[Berube made] a comment to the refs about them being this angelic team about not taking penalties all playoffs, and all of a sudden the whistles are put away. You know what, we’ll keep playing through the stuff we have to. They’re doing it, and we have to find our goals however we need to find them.
“I felt like there was less called, no question. That’s what the statistics show, that there were less power plays on either side,” Backes continued. “That’s kind of more what you’re expecting, maybe, coming into the finals, but that’s not the way the whole playoffs were for us, so I don’t know why that would change now. We’ll see. We just need to keep playing our game for 60 minutes and let the chips fall where they may.”
The ice chips fell hard on the Bruins Thursday, and this time, it was the usually even-keeled Cassidy doing the complaining. In addition to calling the non-call “egregious” and saying “we thought we got screwed,” he also said the league is “getting a black eye with their officiating in the playoffs,” insisting “the narrative changed after Game 3, [when] there was a complaint or whatever put forth by the opposition and it just seemed to change everything.”
They were strong words from the usually unruffled coach. Cassidy’s injury-abbreviated NHL career never matched Berube’s in résumé, but his personality probably meant he would never have matched Berube’s style of play, either. Berube is seventh all time in career penalty minutes. But even if Cassidy’s words were to have similar impact to Berube’s now, it might be too late. These Bruins are battered and bruised. Zdeno Chara is in a specialized facemask. Matt Grzelcyk is still in concussion protocol. Acciari never returned to Thursday’s game.
“We play a hard game,” Berube said when asked how much he sees his one style of play in his team. “We’re a physical team. We forecheck hard. I’ll say it again. We’re the least penalized team in the playoffs. End of story. I don’t need to talk any more about it.”
The conversation isn’t going away that easily, not as it dominates the airwaves and fuels the buildup to Sunday night’s potential Cup clincher in St. Louis.
The Blues have never won a championship in their franchise history, but since rising from the proverbial dead in January and riding the hottest hockey streak into the playoffs, they’ve won each of their previous series on home ice. They have motivation, and they’ve shown resilience.
Remember, it was Berube and Co. who were on the wrong end of some egregiously bad calls in the Western Conference finals, missed hand passes and blown offside calls that could have wrecked their heads. They didn’t let it happen.
That’s the Berube example the Bruins need to follow now.
“We’ve done a good job with that over the course of the year,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “We stay in the moment and we focus on the next game ahead. That’s always just the biggest thing that matters to us. Doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you focus on the next one and try to play good enough to win and now it’s, season’s on the line again, so we’ve got to go out there and play our best.”
No whining. Just winning.
Follow Tara Sullivan on Twitter @Globe_Tara.