Bruins fans hope the only beverage flying through the air in Boston in the coming days will be champagne, sprayed in jubilation in a stark contrast to the water bottle that Cam Neely vehemently discarded like a 95 mph fastball in frustration during Game 5.
In order to have a chance at reaching the pinnacle of professional hockey, though, the Bruins first have to win Game 6 in St. Louis on Sunday. Doing so is no easy task, as Boston is banged up, desperately searching for momentum, and trying to recover from some questionable calls in an agonizing 2-1 loss in Game 5.
While the odds are stacked against the Bruins overall, they do have some history on their side. Boston came back to win the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks after trailing the series 3-2, and it also responded from a 3-2 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier in these playoffs.
Experts believe moving past the poor officiating, getting production from the top line, and finishing chances near the net will go a long way in Game 6. Otherwise, the city of Boston’s championship drought of over four months and counting might continue to haunt local fans.
Benjamin Hochman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “There is this notion that the Bruins will fold to the circumstances Sunday — the Blues with a chance to win their first Cup at home and all — but that doesn’t seem like a simple notion to just toss around.”
Hochman isn’t necessarily saying that the Bruins will win Game 6. He’s simply advising Blues fans to prepare for all outcomes, because Boston has been here before and is still certainly in the series.
He said the Blues will have to maximize their line-change strategy to neutralize the Bruins, continue to kill penalties with guts, and find a way to make up for the suspension of bulldozer Ivan Barbashev (who was suspended for Game 6 after an illegal check to the head on Marcus Johannson).
If they do, Hochman said, the team will have a chance to avoid the same fate as the Canucks and Leafs. The city will then have an opportunity to celebrate the franchise’s first championship.
Chad Finn, The Boston Globe: “It’s obvious what needs to happen for the Bruins to pull this off. (Goalie Tuukka) Rask needs to dominate, their offensive stars need to actually score, and their overall energy cannot wane.”
Finn also alluded to the comebacks in 2011 and earlier these playoffs, noting that it’s possible even though it will take a remarkable effort.
“The Bruins, a resilient lot even as maddening as they were Thursday, can come back from this,” Finn wrote.
He said it would also help significantly if the officials “offer at least an occasional reminder that they know how to do their jobs competently,” pointing out that in Game 5 they didn’t even seem to know what their job was.
Ben Shpigel, New York Times: “It is Boston’s capacity for compartmentalizing that will help determine whether the series returns to TD Garden for a Game 7.”
Shpigel, of course, is referring to the officials, who did the Bruins no favors in Game 5. He believes the best remedy is to put that situation behind them and turn their focus to Game 6. If they do end up losing one of the next two, Shpigel believes they’ll look back to Game 5 as the pivotal moment in the series.
“Unless the Bruins win the next two games, they will be lamenting how they didn’t win (Game 5),” Shpigel wrote.
Dan Falkenheim, Sports Illustrated: “The Blues are one win from etching the NHL’s best, full-fledged comeback story into the Stanley Cup.”
Falkenheim reminded readers that the Blues had the worst record in the NHL as late as January and have risen up the standings and made an improbable playoff run ever since.
He also said teams like Boston, that lose Game 5 at home, have gone on to lose the series 75.5 percent of the time, according to Hockey Reference. Of course, the Bruins are historically an exception to that trend.
“The Bruins’ Stanley Cup trail is filled with shards of smashed glass slippers from the NHL’s faux-Cinderellas, enough to even make Disney’s Wicked Stepmother blush,” Falkenheim wrote. “(Coach) Craig Berube’s tenacious Blues don’t fancy glass slippers, though. The most coveted silver trophy in sports will do just fine.”
Joe Haggerty, NBC Sports Boston: “The Bruins need to be harder on the puck, harder around the front of the net, and scoring on some of those chances if they want to win. Point blank, that’s what they have to do.”
Haggerty deemed the missed tripping call “horrendous,” “egregious,” and “an embarrassment to the NHL that the refs missed a call of that magnitude in the Stanley Cup Final,” but he said the Bruins need to find a way to overcome the situation and regroup for Game 6.
The poor officiating has nothing to do with the lack of production from the first and second lines, and Haggerty alluded to the fact that the no-call only tells part of the story. In reality, the more pressing issue is that the Bruins’ best players have been outplayed to this point.
Matt Dolloff, 98.5 The Sports Hub: “I find it hard to believe that this (top) line is really going to just let this lumbering, unskilled, old-fashioned Blues team shut them down for an entire series. But they’ve run out of room for error. The awakening has to happen now, and it has to happen at 5-on-5 because clearly the officials don’t want to get too involved anymore.
He made it clear Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have been outmatched to this point, seeing as they have zero points at 5-on-5 through five games. Marchand, in particular, hasn’t scored a point at 5-on-5 in 11 straight Stanley Cup Final games, since 2011 against the Canucks.
Dolloff said the Blues’ top line deserves credit for playing better this series, but he stands by the fact that the Bruins’ top line is better overall.
“The reality is setting in, now that the Blues are one win away from grinding and defending their away to a Stanley Cup,” Dolloff wrote. “If the Bruins lose this series, it will be because the top line never pulled its weight like they should.”
Ben Zweiman, DraftKings Live: “I really want to believe the Bruins can salvage a win on the road, but I think their defense is just too banged up.”
Zweiman pointed out that the Bruins went with seven defensemen in Game 5, noting that he believes that wasn’t advisable.
He reminded listeners that the Blues are coming off two wins, heading home, and on the verge of their first championship ever, adding that they’ll be particularly enthusiastic and galvanized heading into the biggest game in franchise history.
“The Blues are in just a fantastic spot to clinch the Stanley Cup,” Zweiman said.