BOSTON—The greatest goal in Boston Bruins’ history is immortalized in bronze outside of TD Garden, an airborne Bobby Orr frozen in celebration after his overtime goal during the 1970 Stanley Cup final. The iconic image of one franchise’s triumph is the same as another’s tortured history, that overtime defeat just one of the 13 games the St. Louis Blues had lost on this stage.
Forty-nine years and one prophetic restroom chat later, the Blues have their first Cup final victory — and fittingly on Boston’s ice — courtesy of an overtime hero way more unlikely than Orr.
With two minutes left in the third period, Blues defenceman Carl Gunnarsson slapped a shot as hard as he could, which is not necessarily saying much for a player who’s never scored more than five goals in a season. The puck beat Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, but then clanged off the post. During the intermission before overtime, Gunnarsson and St. Louis coach Craig Berube stood next to each other at the urinal.
“I just need one more chance,” the former Leaf told Berube.
Did Berube believe him? “I liked hearing it,” he said with a shrug.
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Three minutes and 51 seconds into the extra frame, Gunnarsson’s shot from the right point again beat Rask, this time finding the net to deliver the 3-2 win in Game 2, tying the series at one game apiece with the next two contests in St. Louis. The 32-year-old Gunnarsson had never scored a playoff goal in his 10-year career, and he appeared in just 25 games for the Blues this season, injured for parts of the year and a healthy scratch for others. He now has the most significant goal in St. Louis hockey history — at least for now.
“That’s pretty cool if you think about it that way,” Gunnarsson said. “Pretty sure we’re not going to stop here.”
Before Gunnarsson’s overtime heroics, the Blues had successfully kept the Bruins’ top line of centre Patrice Bergeron and wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak off the score sheet for a second straight game, a credit to the masterful defensive play of centre Brayden Schenn’s line and the blue line duo of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester. The Blues tallied 50 hits in a return to their bruising style. After allowing two soft goals on the first five Boston shots, St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington responded with six saves in the second period and nine in the third.
The team that was in last place in the NHL to start January before surging back into the playoff picture predictably responded to its loss in Game 1.
“I think that for a long time now, this team has really become a really good hockey team and a tight hockey team,” Berube said. “They play for each other night in and night out and they care. We’ve always responded to not a very good game, so you know, going into Game 2, I knew that we’d be a hard team to play against. And we were.”
With 2:03 left in the first period, Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist checked Bruins defenceman Matt Grzelcyk into the end boards, knocking him out of the game with an apparent concussion. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Grzelcyk went to the hospital “to get some tests” and the team is “still waiting for an update.”
It was a turning point for St. Louis: Boston had to play the rest of the game with five defencemen, something made more challenging with the Blues getting back to a physical game. St. Louis got better as the game went on and executed tighter checking while Boston appeared to wear down. The Bruins didn’t get a shot off in overtime, and with Rask’s vision obstructed during a delayed penalty on Boston, Gunnarsson got his chance with a shot he and the team’s other defencemen practice every day.
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As he told Berube, he just needed the one.
“We came out flying and I think we played a great game for 60-plus minutes,” Gunnarsson said. “That’s just the team we are. We come back like that. We never give up. For me to put it in there and get the winner, it’s a great feeling.”