BOSTON—The best from the West met the best from the East, two teams that play the same way — fast, heavy and skilled — facing off in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. And it was the Boston Bruins, buoyed by their depth and apparently not bothered by having 11 days between games, who prevailed.
Fourth-liner Sean Kuraly scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, beating St. Louis super rookie Jordan Binnington, as the Bruins rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Blues 4-2 Monday night.
“That’s how you get to this point, by relying on everybody,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. “It’s been the way that we’ve been successful, when everyone is chipping in and doing the job on any given night.”
Connor Clifton, Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand, into the empty net, all scored for Boston after Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko had opened up a 2-0 lead for St. Louis.
It all seemed to turn on Clifton’s goal, a deflection, just 1:16 after Tarasenko had scored. Clifton is one of the least-heralded Bruins, a 24-year-old rookie who played 19 games for Boston this season and a defenceman with a penchant for joining the rush.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW
“He’s certainly not afraid to get involved,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We noticed that when we first saw him. It was almost a detriment at times. We saw him at rookie camp in Buffalo. So he’s learned when to go, when to be a good support person on the rush.
“He’s done a great job for us since he’s been here and he has the ability to separate. He can skate and beat his guy up ice, goes to the good spots. That’s how he got his goal against Carolina, right in front as well. So good for him. Real timely goal.”
Clifton was happy to chip in. “Sean (Kuraly) made a great play driving wide and he hit me backdoor. Stopped at the net and luckily it went in. I think it was a good changing point. We were getting some chances in the first that we just didn’t bury. Getting that one in the second there was good.”
The Blues, the least penalized team in the post-season in terms of penalty minutes per game (6:18), took five minors to harm their own cause.
“When you have five penalties, it takes a lot of guys out of the game and that burns up a lot of energy from other guys that are killing all the time,” St. Louis coach Craig Berube said. “It’s too much. We’ve got to be better there. We’ve got to be more disciplined.”
The Blues –remain winless in 13 games in the Stanley Cup final. They made it here three times in their first three seasons, but were swept by Montreal in 1968 and 1969 and by Boston in 1970.
Fast forward to today, and much was made of the Bruins’ recent Stanley Cup experience. This is Boston’s third trip to the finals in nine years. They won in 2011 — five members remain from that team — and lost in 2013.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW
The Blues meanwhile have a lot of high-end players with Olympic, World Cup, world championship and world junior experience. But none have won the Stanley Cup.
The layoff between series was a story line that was well explored in the days leading up to Tuesday’s puck drop. Boston had 11 days off after sweeping Carolina, while St. Louis had a pace-killing six days since beating San Jose.
“Obviously it’s been a long wait for both teams,” Marchand said.
“It was too long of a break there,” Blues forward Patrick Maroon said. “Back to business.”
The question was would the lack of action hurt the skaters or the goalies more. Whose timing would be off and whose would be on?
The TD Garden crowd was deafening as the Bruins took to the ice, and even louder if possible through the introductions. As things started, the pace of the first period was exceptional but the Blues outhustled the Bruins early.
“I thought we were bad at the blue line,” Cassidy said.” I think that had to do with — we don’t like to talk about it but — time off. You don’t have your edge. You battle. You try to replicate it in practice …
“Those things should come a little more naturally (in Game 2) on Wednesday.”
But the Bruins turned things on in the second period, taking over the game after Clifton’s goal and outshooting St. Louis 38-20 overall to take the series lead.
Since the final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 77.2 per cent of the time (61 of 79 series).The Capitals lost Game 1 last year but went on to win the next four.
“It’s only a quarter of the way there,” Bergeron said. “We know they’re going to come out even stronger for Game 2. We have to be ready for that.”
Kevin McGran is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @kevin_mcgran