ST. LOUIS — Relentless with their forechecking pressure throughout the series, the Blues on Sunday night were able only sporadically to keep the Bruins pinned and hogtied in their own end in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Free of much of that suffocating pressure, which limited their goal scoring to but three goals over the previous two games, the Bruins finally rediscovered their scoring touch.
Simple formula: Shake the forecheck, gain some oxygen, light up the scoreboard. And now head home to Boston with a 5-1 win and a chance Wednesday night to waltz the Cup around the Garden in an historic Game 7.
“I didn’t think we dumped pucks in very well,” said Blues coach Craig Berube. “I thought we kinda put pucks to bad areas. Whether our forwards didn’t soft chip it enough to get it to good areas — or be physical enough with our forwards. I didn’t think we got in their quick enough to win enough battles with our forecheck.
“There were a lot of battles there — but we lost them.”
The Bruins’ first goal, a power-play snipe by Brad Marchand during a 5-on-3 advantage, had them playing with a lead again, after going 0:00 with the lead in Games 4 and 5. Playing with the lead, or “downhill” in coach Bruce Cassidy’s terms, has been a key for the Bruins this playoff season.
Boston’s forwards also were key in breaking that relentless Blues energy. Playing slightly tighter to their defensemen in their own end, the forwards made themselves available for passes and retrievals. They weren’t guilty of blowing the zone — leaving too early — in prior games, but they were more attentive in their own end of the ice.
Cassidy felt the adjustment began in Game 5 — when the Bruins had 65 shot attempts to the Blues’ 41 — and rightly credited the Blues showing good pressure for the start on Sunday. But it began to break down in the second.
“If that trend continued, I thought, ‘It’s really going to be tough for us tonight,’ ” said Cassidy, the traction really beginning to change once Brad Marchand nailed in the 1-0 lead. “I thought in the second period we did a much better job handling it. Numbers at the puck. Get our feet moving. When the defensemen do recover the puck, you’ve got to make sure you take a couple of steps and live to fight another day by either pitching it out to the neutral zone — or just back them off. We were able to do that better.”
The Blues fired 59 shots attempts, and the Bruins only 47. Part of that imbalance was because the Blues were awarded four power plays (double the Boston chances). In the first 40 minutes, the Blues landed 19 shots on net — 12 of which were on the power play.
The Bruins scored three times at 5 on 5, and finally showed they can get inside the stout, punishing Blues defensemen.
“They’re big guys — if you don’t get positioned, you have no chance on their D to keep it alive,” said Cassidy. “We did better on the walls. That’s where this series is tilted in their favor. We’re not strong on the walls in our own end [under the forecheck], they keep pucks alive, we get fatigued. As a result, we get worked down low and they score their goals.”
■ The Bruins again were reluctant to land hits in their offensive end. The Blues again used their forecheck to keep the Bruins pinned in their end in spurts in the first period. They establish that forecheck with punishing hits. The Bruins opt to use quick sticks, and few hits, in the offensive zone. They can survive and win with that finesse game. The Blues prefer power. One or the other will walk out of the Garden with the Cup.
■ The hometown crowd, ready to celebrate the first Cup in franchise history, lost its edge considerably when Marchand ripped home the David Pastrnak pass for the 1-0 lead. The energy drain was obvious . . . and understandable. They were in full party mode, and the party went out of town.
■ Ryan O’Reilly came out snortin’, and won five of his six faceoffs in the first period. He also nearly connected on a shorthanded attempt only seconds after the Bruins were awarded their first power play — a boarding call on Brayden Schenn vs. Joakim Nordstrom. Not a good first period for Patrice Bergeron at the dot. Patrice The Thief lost all but one of his seven drops. When the night finished, Bergeron was a tepid 8 for 18 (44 percent) and O’Reilly 14 for 21 (67 percent).
■ Brett Hull, a huge star here in his Golden Brett days, was a constant presence as a cheerleader, seen numerous times on the vid board ginning up the crowd. Just a guess, but it looked like Adam Oates’s old linemate put in some serious pregame preparation to get ready for his role.
■ David Perron continued in his role of lead pest. Once again, he got up in Tuukka Rask’s grill, this time as the first period ended. Rare for a guy with his offensive skill to be that kind of agitator. Not that Marchand lacks anything in the skill-and-agitation department, but the Li’l Ball o’ Hate is a li’l more subtle about it than Perron. The Bruins had Perron on their acquisition radar back when then-GM Peter Chiarelli was shopping for swaps on Phil Kessel.
■ One way to break the Blues pressure: home run passes. Charlie McAvoy threw a beauty to Danton Heinen with 4:17 gone in the second, and Heinen closed to the top of the crease with a great chance, only to have Alex Pietrangelo reach in with his stick at last second and disruptHeinen’s shot.
■ Marchand was tossed in the box for tripping Pietrangelo with a nasty trip at 9:11 of the second. Right call. But it was precisely the same play, Tyler Bozak on Noel Acciari, that was not penalized in Game 5 at the Garden, leading to a 2-0 St. Louis lead. When the Lords of the Boards debate refereeing inconsistency, that vid comparison should be Exhibit A.
■ Brandon Carlo’s shot that provided the 2-0 lead was a 58-foot wrister that bounced some 10-12 feet in front of Jordan Binnington and beat the goaltender to the paddle side. Best knuckler throw by anyone in a Boston uniform since Tim Wakefield.