Stanley Cup Final: Bruins' biggest stars finally show up, spoil the Blues' party
The Bruins' star-power finally made a difference in Game 6
The entire city of St. Louis was ready to party on Sunday night. On the heels two straight wins in which they frustrated the Bruins, the Blues came into Game 6 with a chance to clinch their first Stanley Cup in the 52-year history of the franchise. They also had a chance to become the first team to raise the Cup on home ice since the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks did it.
You want to miss a party 52 years in the making? Probably not.
The get-in price was nearly $3,000 leading up to puck drop at Enterprise Center, but those who couldn't afford to shell out that green for their Blues had other options -- including a massive outdoor viewing party downtown, which an estimated 30,000 people attended.
Yes, St. Louis was ready to party. But maybe they were a little too ready.
Hours before the Blues took to the ice in Game 6 with a chance to clinch their first-ever Stanley Cup title, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch accidentally published a celebratory poster that congratulated the Blues on winning the Cup, as well as an open letter from team chairman and governor Tom Stillman.
Putting together that kind of celebratory material before sealing the deal is necessary and standard in sports, but accidentally letting it rip and sending it out to the public prematurely is a misfire that likely got some poor Post-Dispatch employee an earful on Sunday.
And those who feared the slip-up would be a bad omen for the Blues saw the jinx realized hours later when the Blues were pushed around by the Bruins in a 5-1 Boston win that spoiled any planned celebrations and forced a Game 7 back in New England.
The party was officially pooped.
In order to ruin everyone's good time, the Bruins needed stronger efforts from their top players, many of whom were shockingly quiet in the lead-up to Game 6. At the top of the list of concerns was the Bruins' best line -- dubbed "The Perfection Line" by some. That trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak had been stunningly imperfect through five games, being held without an even-strength goal.
After a Game 5 in which they were the Bruins' worst forwards on the ice in terms of 5-on-5 possession share, the top trio delivered some promising signs of life in a bounce-back effort on Sunday. They were the Bruins best forwards in 5-on-5 possession share, owning around 60 percent of the shot attempts while on the ice in Game 6.
Though used somewhat sparingly -- Marchand logged a playoff low 15:47, Bergeron played 16:15 and Pastrnak just 13:26 -- they were finally able to find some production. Marchand broke a five-game goalless drought with a power play goal in the first period, but it was Pastrnak who picked up the unit's first 5-on-5 goal when Marchand found him all alone in the slot in the third period.
There's no question that it's been a frustrating series for those guys but there's also no question that the Bruins needed them performing at a higher level to have any hope of salvaging their Cup dreams. It wasn't a thoroughly dominant performance in Game 6 -- they were on the ice for the Blues' lone goal off the stick of Ryan O'Reilly -- but they drove play and their breakthrough could provide the unit with some confidence heading into Game 7.
The first line wasn't the only grouping that found some renewed life on Sunday, either. The second unit, which had been all but invisible for most of the series, found a heartbeat as well -- and it's name is Karson Kuhlman. The 23-year-old rookie made his Stanley Cup Final debut when he slotted into the second line right wing. That spot usually belongs to David Backes, who has been healthy scratched in the last two games.
Kuhlman brought some extra speed and energy to the Bruins lineup and his high-motor play seemed to spark linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, both of whom arguably played their best game of the series. Kuhlman also delivered with a perfect rip that resulted in his first career playoff goal to make it 3-0 Bruins in the third period.
Getting the top-six going was the Bruins' main priority. Without them making an impact, the Cup all but belongs to the Blues. Fortunately for Boston, the top two lines emerged from total darkness at an opportune time and played well enough to force the series to go the distance.
Also playing a major role in spoiling potential history for St. Louis was one Tuukka Rask. The Bruins goaltender put together another outstanding performance between the pipes, continuing his utter dominance in elimination games this postseason. He stopped 28 of 29 shots to move to 5-0 with a .973 save percentage in potential closeout games during this run.
Rask's elite play was crucial in the first 40 minutes of Sunday's game. The Blues had a number of scoring opportunities -- in fact, they out-chanced Boston 21-13 through the first two periods -- but were held fruitless as Rask stood tall in the crease. It felt like the Blues were on the brink of finding an equalizer in the second period as they established sustained pressure in the zone but Rask willed the Bruins to survival before things broke open in the third.
The Finnish goaltender has been the Bruins' MVP all postseason long and he was once again their best player on the ice in Game 6. If the Bruins win on Wednesday, there's pretty much no doubt that Rask will get to hoist the Conn Smythe in addition to the Cup.
But the Bruins can't plan the parade just yet. As encouraging as some of the key performances were on Sunday night, there's still one game left and this series has been an unpredictable clinic in resilience. The Blues have found a way to persevere all year long, and it's unlikely they're just going to roll over after being forced to keep the champagne on ice. They've got one more chance to embrace an underdog role and showcase ability to climb back into the fight -- something that has been their calling card since January.
Meanwhile, Boston can feel a little better now that there's proof their best forwards are capable of coming out on top, but there should be cautious optimism in the streets on Wednesday. Anything can happen in a Game 7, and we already know that a Stanley Cup isn't won just because you put it in writing.
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