Thanks to a motivational speech from Patrice Bergeron and a solid showing from the same crew that engineered the Bruins' 2011 run, the Stanley Cup was packed up and is heading to Boston for a Game 7.
ST. LOUIS — As the final seconds ticked down, the Stanley Cup made its exit. Stashed in a storage trunk, stalked by a cluster of TV cameras, it was whisked through the bowels of Enterprise Center, past a metal barricade setup meant for a celebration that never came. Five decades had dovetailed toward Sunday night for St. Louis, its franchise-long championship drought set to be quenched by champagne. Now the wait must last another three days.
It was eight years ago when the Bruins won the last Game 7 to decide the Cup final, ultimately causing another titleless city to release its collective anger in the form of a full-blown riot. And now the trophy will head east for another do-or-die scenario, bound for one final round of polishing after Boston polished off the Blues, 5–1. Deep breaths, everyone. Try to stay calm until then. “The emotions,” Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said later. “Crap, like, it’s a lot.”
The denizens of St. Louis, whether packed together at the watch party along Market Street or hollering themselves hoarse inside the arena, came ready to witness history. But Game 6 belonged to the same Boston core that engineered its 2011 run. Winger Brad Marchand cranked the opening salvo in the first period, dropping to one knee during a 5-on-3 power play. Cracked jaw and all, captain Zdeno Chara flung an empty-netter with 2:19 left before receiving a hero’s welcome of tender hugs (careful of the full facemask!) upon returning to the bench.
And it was none other than center Patrice Bergeron, the longest-tenured Bruins player, who delivered what teammates described as a motivational speech fit for Hollywood. “It was exactly what we needed,” McAvoy said. “We were all a little kid once, and we all wanted this bad. I think it as just an element of savoring this moment, and not letting it end tonight.”
“He’s a legend,” winger Jake DeBrusk said. “It was … ‘We’re here for a reason. Everyone that plays hockey grows up and dreams of playing in this moment.’ Something along those lines. To see him set the tone that way made us all want to run through a wall.”
As it happened, surviving the ground-and-pound Blues might’ve been tougher than breaking brick. Hemmed early for several long stretches by St. Louis’s forecheck, the Bruins only escaped into the first intermission ahead thanks to consecutive penalties on centers Brayden Schenn (boarding) and Ryan O’Reilly (delay of game), which set up Marchand’s first non-empty-net tally of the series. Even when a tumbling puck from defenseman Brandon Carlo beat goalie Jordan Binnington to put Boston ahead 2–0 in the third, a Blues comeback push seemed possible.
Then came the death nail, hammered to the sound of iron. It was just past the midway point of the third period when Karson Kuhlman came huffing through the offensive zone, an unlikely source to hush an increasingly tense crowd. Shelved for the past seven weeks as a healthy scratch before rejoining the Bruins lineup, the 23-year-old rookie winger ripped a wrister from above the right faceoff circle that clanged off the far post and rattled past Binnington, its echo met with silence. So, kid, how does skating in Game 7 for the Stanley Cup sound?
“If you can’t get up for that one, better check your pulse,” Kuhlman said. “It’s going to be a fun one back home.”
Never before have the Bruins hosted a winner-take-all with a championship on the line, a trivia tidbit soon to die thanks to Tuukka Rask. It was at TD Garden where the Blackhawks famously beat the Boston goalie twice in 17 seconds, late in the third period of Game 6, to clinch the 2013 Cup. In hostile territory for this elimination scenario, he was magnificent with 28 saves, including 12 on four Blues power plays, and he nearly stole another with a lunging right pad on O’Reilly’s third period goal. Indeed, little more of Rask needed to be said beyond how McAvoy succinctly responded to three separate questions about his performance: “Best player on the ice.”
Rask was confined to the bench for Game 7 in Vancouver, backing up Tim Thomas, but will be a shoe-in for the 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy should Boston prevail on Wednesday. In the opposite crease, Binnington certainly looked shaky on Carlo’s goal but owns a 13–2 record after losses since emerging from the minors to rescue the Blues this season.
It is one of many storylines at stake, not the least of which features the NHL’s most starved market against the country’s most spoiled sports city, gunning for a nearly unprecedented trifecta of the World Series, Super Bowl and Cup. But the simplest was captured by Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, an hour or so after Lord Stanley’s chalice was wheeled out of the building.
“The whole hockey world loves a Game 7,” he said. “Should be a great night in Boston, and may the best team win.”