4th line bails out Bruins following rusty beginning
Trio use speed, relentlessness to help defeat St. Louis Blues
The rust was evident early on for the Boston Bruins in their Stanley Cup final curtain-raiser against the St. Louis Blues on Monday.
Eleven days off between games will do that to you. But the Bruins eventually found their stride with enough time left to score a 4-2 come-from-behind victory to take the opener.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy knew the lack of game competition would be a hornets' nest. He stated as much in some of his interview sessions leading up to the final.
He gave his players some time off. He then tried to work them hard with some simulated games.
He even sought out advice from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots had to deal with significant time off before their six Super Bowl championships and nine trips to the big game in total.
WATCH | Bruins come from behind to beat Blues in Game 1:
Cassidy refused to divulge what sage counsel Belichick offered. But whatever the Patriots coach had to say the Bruins looked like a rusty bunch early on in the opener.
Blues centre Brayden Schenn was the best player on the ice in the first 21 minutes. He lassoed a long rebound for the game's first goal midway through the first period.
The native of Saskatoon then forced a turnover from Boston right wing David Pastrnak in the opening minute of the second period. Schenn set up linemate Vladimir Tarasenko for a 2-0 lead.
Scoring first has been a hallmark of the Blues playoff success. This was the 14th time in 20 post-season outings St. Louis had scored first, but only the fourth time it had failed to win when checking in with the game's first goal.
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What was even more distressing for Cassidy's side was his reliable top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak were on the ice for the two St. Louis goals. So what did Cassidy do? He leaned on his speedy, relentless fourth line.
It didn't disappoint and bailed out Boston like the trio has done so many times in this efficient playoff run that has the Bruins three wins away from another sports title for championship-rich Boston. Seventy-six seconds after Tarasenko's goal, fourth-line centre Sean Kuraly threw a pass at defenceman Connor Clifton, who had jumped into the play. Kuraly's pass deflected off Clifton's skate for a big goal. Kuraly's heads up play gave the Bruins life.
Bruins take over
They took over the game from there. Several shifts later young defenceman Charlie McAvoy tied the affair with a blistering wrist shot underneath the catching glove of St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington on the power play. The Blues rookie, the regular season and playoff MVP for his team, felt he should have made the stop.
But without him, St. Louis could have been behind by the time the second intermission arrived. The Bruins outshot the Blues 18-3 in the second period and 30-12 in the final 40 minutes after they found the legs. But Boston still needed a go-ahead goal. Enter Kuraly and his fourth-line friends Noel Acciari and Joakim Nordstrom. Five minutes into the third period, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara drifted a shot into the midsection of Binnington.
The Blues goalie fumbled the puck, leaving a rebound for Acciari. He fired a pass to Kuraly. The native of Dublin, Ohio corralled the pass with his right skate and then deposited the game winner. Marchand added an empty-netter to close out the all-important win in the series opener.
Since the championship series turned to a best-of-seven format in 1939, the team that has won the first game has gone on to celebrate the Stanley Cup 77.2 per cent of the time (61 of 79 occasions).
The Bruins were thankful they were able to shake off the rust in time in this one.