ST. LOUIS — The celebratory newspaper ads will have to wait at least three more days.
If they are ever published, that is.
The St. Louis Blues bungled their chance to hoist the hardware on their home ice Sunday night. With a 3-2 series lead, the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in the building, an estimated 40,000 fans ready to celebrate at downtown watch party, and the top floor of a local bar rented out for potential postgame festivities, the Blues couldn’t finish the job in Game 6.
“Credit Boston, they played well,” coach Craig Berube said after his team’s 5-1 loss.
The Bruins struck first midway through the first period — a goal Berube pegged as an early difference maker. Already on a power play, Boston earned another man-up advantage when Blues center Ryan O’Reilly couldn’t clear the puck and was whistled for delay of game. Fifty-eight seconds of five-on-three is a surefire recipe for generating scoring chances, especially when the league’s best power-play unit of the postseason is on the attack.
Left wing Brad Marchand notched his first non-empty netter score of the series, giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead they would never relinquish.
“When you score first, it changes a lot,” Berube said. “Obviously, it gives you a ton of confidence and momentum. I liked our start. I thought we were pressuring and we were on it. If you score, probably a different game. But that’s the way it goes.”
“You’d like to get the first one and get the crowd involved,” added center Brayden Schenn.
Despite four power-play opportunities to notch an equalizer, the Blues couldn’t find the back of the net in the first or second period.
Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, who finished with 28 saves, played a critical role in maintaining Boston’s advantage, fending off nearly everything that came his way. His teammates helped, too, blocking 12 shots over the course of the opening two periods.
“We had some good looks,” Berube said. “Could [our power play] be better? Yeah, it has to be better. That could have won us the game tonight. We had good looks. We had 12 shots on the power play tonight, but we definitely have to bury a couple.”
“There were a few times there that that could have given the spark we needed to transfer the momentum,” added center Ryan O’Reilly, who tallied St. Louis’s only goal of the game. “Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Despite trailing, 1-0, after 40 minutes, the Blues seemed pleased with their effort. “Two periods of tight hockey,” as Berube put it. The final frame, however, told a different story.
Defenseman Brandon Carlo fired a shot from nearly 60 feet out that tumbled past goaltender Jordan Binnington and into the net, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Rookie Karson Kuhlman, making his series debut, notched his first goal of the postseason eight minutes later to make it 3-0. The pair of daggers deflated the crowd, and all but secured a Game 7 in Boston.
Berube said he didn’t think the pressure of the moment — an opportunity to clinch the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup at home — got the best of his team. The group will once again have to keep their emotions in check upon taking the ice Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Speaking in platitudes, the Blues insisted they’ll be ready.
“We got pick ourselves back up and get back at it,” Binnington said.
“We know if we play our best game, we can get it done,” O’Reilly said.
“We know we need to play better,” echoed team captain Alex Pietrangelo.
The Blues referenced their strong 9-3 road playoff record this season, including two wins in Boston this series, as reasons for their confidence.
“We’ve said in this locker room, if you would have told us in January that we have a Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup, we’d be pretty excited,” Schenn said.