The St. Louis Blues proved to be a resilient bunch during the Western Conference final by compartmentalizing an egregious oversight by the officials in Game 3 against San Jose to win the series.
It’s one thing for a team to say it can put things in the past. It’s another for it to actually stuff it in the trunk.
So when the Blues said blowing a two-goal lead in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins was no big thing you had to believe them.
“They play for each other and they care,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Going into Game 2, I knew we’d be a hard team to play against.”
The latest piece of evidence proving the Blues may be fated to win the championship came at 3:51 of overtime Wednesday when defenseman Carl Gunnarsson scored the game-winner. The series is now tied 1-1 heading back to St. Louis.
Gunnarsson scores goals once in a Blues moon. He had only three in 25 regular-season games this season, only 29 in 581 during his career. He hadn’t scored a goal in his first 56 postseason games and hadn’t scored a point in the playoffs before Wednesday. But he began building momentum for the big finish with an assist earlier in the game.
“Anybody can step up, for sure,” Berube said. “We use everybody.”
Much has been made about this being the Blues first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 when they were swept by Bobby Orr’s Bruins. But what hasn’t gotten as much attention was that was their third straight appearance in the Finals. Once upon a time in the NHL’s post-expansion world the Blues were a powerhouse.
But not until Gunnarsson uncorked his slapshot had the Blues won a Stanley Cup Finals game. They were 0-13 heading into overtime.
Then again, the Blues have shown time and time again since New Year’s Day what they are capable of. They were the NHL’s worst team back then. And now they are three wins away from being its best.
Gunnarsson is just the team’s latest postseason hero. When he clanged one of the goalpost in the third period you figured his time to change that had come and gone.
“[I shot it] as hard as I could, yeah,” Gunnarsson said. “I knew I had it past him, but then I saw it sitting in the crease. I was hoping someone would poke it in, but that didn’t happen.”
But the Blues kept pounding away, outshooting the Bruins 37-20 and landing 50 hits on their players.
“(The Blues) came harder than last game,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle told USA Today. “They had pace, they hit and they were all over the puck.”
As it turned out, Gunnarsson predicted he’d score the game-winner before overtime in a brief exchange with Berube in the bathroom of the Blues locker room.
“He just said he needed one more shot,” Berube said. “He was joking around a little bit. He made a great shot.”
Imagine what Berube must have thought when Gunnarsson got his shot and buried it under the crossbar behind goalie Tuukka Rask.
“I liked hearing it,” Berube said of Gunnarsson’s chit-chat. “He hit the post in the third there and he felt good about himself, obviously, which he should have. He had a hell of a game, I thought, and I’m really happy for him that he ended up getting that game winner.”
What’s also clear about Game 2 is that the Bruins emerged angry about what happened in the first period when their defenseman, Matt Grzelcyk, was sidelined by a hit into the boards by Oskar Sundqvist.
Grzelcyk was gathering the puck behind Boston’s net when he appeared to lose his blade. At the same time, Sundqvist delivered a hit that slammed Grzelcyk’s head into the glass. After laying on the ice for a few minutes he was helped off the ice and taken to the hospital.
“I don’t think that’s a hit we want in our game,” Boston forward David Backes said. “I think it’s from behind, elevated in to his head into the glass.”
As you might expect, the Bruins are resolved to change the momentum in the series when it continues Saturday in St. Louis.
“We need to be better,” Brad Marchand told NHL.com. “Personally, I wasn’t good the last two games. We can’t be playing like that. … I think we can control the mistakes that are being made. But that’s hockey. Things happen.”
In the meantime, you wonder if anyone else might approach Berube with a prediction in the restroom.
“You don’t hear that story very often. That’s not a place to have a conversation,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “But I guess it works.”