Stanley Cup Final: Zdeno Chara's triumphant return overshadowed by Bruins' continued offensive ineptitude
After a strong start in Game 5, Boston's offense quickly saw the wheels fall off in frustrating fashion
BOSTON -- All the chatter heading into Thursday's Game 5 surrounded Zdeno Chara -- the towering Bruins defenseman who suffered a broken jaw when he took a puck to the face in Game 4. Wednesday brought news of the injury and with it came speculation that the Boston captain could miss the remainder of the season. But with Chara's status still up in the air as the hours passed on Thursday, there was a growing sense that he might somehow soldier his way into the lineup for Game 5.
Well, he did. And when Chara took the ice and was introduced in his usual spot in the starting lineup just before opening puck drop, he received what might have been the most deafening ovation that TD Garden has heard this postseason. Unfortunately for the fans in Boston, it was one of their only opportunities to get loud on Thursday night.
Chara's presence injected some life into the home crowd, but it didn't do the same to the Bruins' offense. They've gone cold at the most inopportune time imaginable.
Coming into Game 5, the Bruins had largely been outplayed at 5-on-5. The Blues held the series advantage in even-strength shots (96-85), shot attempts (188-148), scoring chances (80-65) and goals (10-8). The Bruins had zero even-strength points from a top six that turned into a top five with the removal of David Backes from the lineup (the Bruins dressed a seventh defensemen, Steven Kampfer, as extra insurance for Chara). Boston's two wins in the series came on the strength of depth and special teams.
Things did look promising for Boston out of the gate. They kicked things off with a physical, productive first period that saw them pepper 17 shots on net. But those opportunities were fruitless as Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington stood tall and turned away every last one, making it feel like the Blues won the first period by simply escaping it without trailing.
Then, just 55 seconds into the second period, Ryan O'Reilly scored his third goal in two games to give the Blues a lead. From that point on, it felt like the Bruins were chasing the game. It started to look a lot more like Game 4 -- with the Blues holding tight defensively while the Bruins fumbled and bumbled their way around the ice, failing to generate any sustained pressure.
In the first period, Boston appeared to be prioritizing pucks on net. They put anything they could on Binnington. But after the Blues took a lead, the Bruins' offensive attack disintegrated. That opening goal effectively scrambled Boston's central processing unit and they couldn't seem to reset. They started overthinking, passing up good looks in order to make an extra unnecessary pass -- often to nobody in particular.
Even the power play went nearly off the rails, consistently failing to deliver the quality looks that often helped them right the ship earlier in these playoffs. During a man-advantage opportunity in the second period, it took the Bruins nearly 1:20 to even get set up in the offensive zone. It was a mess.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy eventually threw his lines in a blender and hoped that something would click, but the struggle raged on.
Yes, the biggest talking point from this game will be the egregious missed tripping call that allowed the Blues to double their lead in the third period -- make no mistake about it, it was highly egregious and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy had every right to say it was a "black eye" for the NHL.
But poor officiating doesn't erase the fact that the Bruins lost all sense of their offensive game for about a 30 minute stretch. Harping on that call as the team heads into a Game 6 with their season on the line won't either.
I suppose one silver lining for the Bruins is that they finally started to put things together late in the third period. They finally got on the scoreboard when Jake DeBrusk snapped his own ugly stretch of play by sniping a goal past Binnington. That goal, which probably should have been the equalizer, breathed some life back into the Bruins. With some urgency and desperation behind their game, Boston pushed St. Louis' back up against the wall. They had several scoring opportunities in the final few minutes, but ultimately it proved to be too little too late.
If the Bruins' offense helps them force a Game 7 and brings this series back to TD Garden, it will start will that top line of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak (if that combination even sticks together for Game 6 in St. Louis).
For a line that was propped up as "The Perfection Line" this year, they've certainly looked far from perfect in this Cup Final. During Game 5 on Thursday, they were Boston's worst three forwards in terms of possession at five-on-five, with all three holding a shot attempt share of 50 percent or below. All three are still without a single point at even-strength in the series.
Thursday proved Chara and the back end can hold it together for Boston, even in their current battered state. The question now turns fully to Boston's offense, with the certainty that one more dud will result in the Blues raising their first Cup in franchise history.
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