ST. LOUIS — It will all come down to one last battle for hockey’s ultimate prize.
The Boston Bruins put any championship celebration from the St. Louis Blues on hold in Game 6 Sunday night.
Bruce Cassidy’s squad executed everything in a timely fashion. Boston’s man advantage struck for the first time since Game 3 with a 1-for-2 evening. It’s equally impressive penalty kill kept a relentless Blues power play attack in check. Tuukka Rask stood on his head with another stellar outing. Finally, Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo, Karson Kuhlman, David Pastrnak and captain Zdeno Chara quieted a hot St. Louis fanbase — looking to witness their first Stanley Cup in franchise history — with pivotal goals in the first and third periods, respectively.
With their backs against the wall, the Bruins came through with a physical victory to force a winner take all for the Stanley Cup.
I’m going through this and this is my first Stanley Cup and it’s just a lot, to be honest with you. Like the emotions involved. I mean, crap. It’s a lot,” an emotional Charlie McAvoy said about playing in another Game 7 following Boston’s 5-1 win in Game 6.
“Our backs are against the wall. You have so many mixed emotions, you do whatever it takes. This is your dream to win this thing. When your backs against the wall and you know they are one win away, it hurts a little bit.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins will host Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday night.
Rask shines bright again in a clinching scenario
The Bruins haven’t lost a potential clinching game yet. They earned a series win on their first attempt on each of their previous three rounds leading, while also earning Game 6 road wins in Toronto and now St. Louis in elimination scenarios.
Just look at Rask’s numbers in such circumstances following his 28-save outing — including 12 stops on St. Louis’ four power play attempts. The Finn improved to 5-0 in clinching scenarios with an astonishing .974 save percentage and 0.80 goals against average.
“If you don’t get goaltending, you don’t win very often, and we’re no different than anybody else” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Rask.
Rask hasn’t been good. He’s been great. The Finn hasn’t posted a save percentage under .900 in any postseason game during this run. He’s now 15-8-0 to with a .938 save percentage and sub 2.00 GAA.
He also had a little help over these last two games with McAvoy and David Krejci (in Game 5) backing Rask up on spectacular last second stops. But he’ll take any help he can get from keeping the puck out of his net.
The 2014 Vezina winner quieted all the noise from the hot take crowd during his 2019 playoff run. But he knows the Bruins need one more win — in the ultimate clinching scenario — to make this postseason run worthwhile.
“It’s very exciting. A lot of us played in the [Stanley Cup] Final a couple of times, but we never had a chance to clinch a game at home,” Rask, one of five members from the 2011 Stanley Cup squad, said about Game 7. “The city will be behind us, and we’ll be very excited. But like Brad [Marchand] said, we’re just focused on our game, and we have a hockey game to win, so that’s all that really matters.”
Special teams shine bright in hostile territory
The Bruins’ power play dried up in Games 4 and 5. Those two outings came on the heels of a historic perfect 4-for-4 outing — on four shots on goal — in Game 3.
The penalty kill didn’t suffer the same fate as the power play. In fact, they only allowed one goal against the Blues on the power play heading into Game 6.
Both came together in Game 6. Rask and the Bruins’ PK set the tone early following Sean Kuraly’s delay of game penalty just 2:42 in. With a 1-0 lead, the Bruins followed that with three more kills in the second period, keeping Vladimir Tarasenko and the Blues’ power play at bay.
The Bruins’ power play gave them the 1-0 lead with Marchand’s one-timer on a 5-on-3 attempt in the first.
Boston’s special teams prowess provided a trickle-down effect with their 5-on-5 play, an area they struggled with through the first five games. The Bruins outshot the Blues 27-16 and outscored them 3-1 in even strength scenarios. Each of their three 5V5 goals came in the third period with Carlo’s bouncer, Kuhlman’s slick top-shelf snapshot and Pastrnak’s first even strength goal of the series.
The Bruins found a formula against St. Louis’ aggressive forecheck in Game 6. They’ll need to replicate that again come Wednesday night.
Kuhlman provides contagious energy to new linemates
A player going from the press box to the ice sheet after a long period of time doesn’t always pay immediate dividends. The rust and hesitation that comes with a long layoff between games puts said player in a tough spot initially.
Don’t tell that to Karson Kuhlman. He’s provided the Bruins with a spark each time he returned to the lineup.
Game 6 was no different as the former Minnesota-Duluth product gave the Bruins instant energy in his first game since Game 3 of the Columbus series. Kuhlman, in another big game scenario, provided a much-needed spark for David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk as the two second line forwards had their best game of the season with their rookie winger flanking them.
Both DeBrusk and Krejci assisted on Carlo and Kuhlman’s third-period tallies. The former, who notched his second goal in three games, set the franchise record as the 20th Bruin to tally a postseason goal with his shorthanded tally in Game 4. The latter became the 21st different Bruin to tally a postseason goal, tying the 1987 Flyers for most in a single playoff.
“They’re obviously great players,” Kuhlman said about skating with Krejci and DeBrusk. “They see the ice so well. Krech [Krejci] and J.D. [DeBrusk] can both skate so it helps me do what I do best — getting up the ice and playing a 200-foot game.”
The Stanley Cup can bring any player from obscurity to a folk hero. Kuhlman isn’t obscure anymore to the Boston fanbase. But he should get the chance to prove that theory true to the hockey world in Game 7.
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