It was worth the wait.
The Boston Bruins waited 11 days for their first taste of Stanley Cup Final action in six years. There would be no more hype or hoopla. Boston’s first matchup against the St. Louis Blues for hockey’s ultimate prize since Bobby Orr’s iconic overtime winner 49 years ago was finally underway.
Make that 11 days and a little over 20 minutes of hockey. Because the Bruins, admittedly, came out rusty and had to climb back from a two-goal deficit, an expected outcome following a nearly two-week layoff.
But the resilient Bruins found their legs following Vladimir Tarasenko’s ninth goal of the playoffs exactly one minute into the second period.
The avalanche of Bruins scoring chances — especially in the final 40 — handcuffed Blues goalie Jordan Binnington. Boston’s physicality overwhelmed a Blues squad and forced them into timid decision making and costly penalties. It all came together in the form of four unanswered goals by Connor Clifton, Charlie McAvoy, Sean ‘Big Game’ Kuraly, and Brad Marchand.
“The resiliency of our whole group, we stayed calm on the bench, we stick together, we stay positive. We keep playing our game,” an energetic Marcus Johansson said following Boston’s 4-2 triumph in Game 1. “It’s almost like that [McAvoy] goal was good for us, it woke us up a bit. After that, we took the game over.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins earned their eighth straight postseason victory dating back to Game 4 of their second-round series with the Blue Jackets.
Boston’s physicality gave St. Louis ‘the Blues’.
The final stat line showed the Blues earning a 33-32 advantage in hits over the Bruins. The Blues hardly looked like the more physical team in the second and third periods.
The Bruins were one step ahead of the Blues once they found their legs in the second period. Only three Bruins — Johansson, Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk — had a hit-less night. The fourth line of Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom set Boston’s physical tone with a combined 14 hits.
The biggest hit of the night came from a helmet-less Torey Krug following his altercation with David Perron in front of Tuukka Rask. Krug added a little extra muscle to his clean collision with Robert Thomas following the altercation with Perron.
“I don’t know what [the Blues] were feeling on their bench. But if it pushes them back and catches them off-guard then it’s great for our team,” Krug said about his hit on Thomas. “But I think it gave our team energy, and that’s all you’re trying to do out there. Just try to make little plays throughout the game that push your team in the right direction and that was one of them.”
The Bruins held on to a 3-2 third lead during Krug’s hit on Thomas. That symbolic moment put one nail in the Blues’ coffin in Game 1.
It was a symbolic highlight reel moment for the 5-foot-9 Krug, who hasn’t shied away from contact at all this postseason.
“He’s the type of guy that never gives up,” Rask said about Krug. “I saw him battle in front of the net and I just wanted to tell him to get out there during the rush, you know. But you’re playing in the Final, so there’s going to be battles all over the ice. And I think he had no helmet on, so he wanted to make sure he made the highlights on that hit.”
Krug wasn’t the only Bruins defenseman that made his way to the highlight reel in Game 1.
Clifton and McAvoy set the comeback tone
Every Bruin had his hands in the come-from-behind victory to kick off the Cup Final. But they needed a tone-setter following tallies by Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko.
Enter Clifton, a raw and energetic rookie blue-liner who played his way into the playoff roster. The Quinnipiac alum netted his second goal of the postseason — deflecting a Sean Kuraly feed off his skates past Binnington — just 1:16 after Tarasenko’s marker on the heels of a David Pastrnak turnover.
“I saw a 3-on-2 and I just saw an opportunity to go to the net and luckily it hit off my foot and went in,” Clifton said about his tally.
Clifton got the Bruins on the board. Then they piled up opportunity after opportunity on Binnington en route to an 18-3 shots on goal advantage through the middle 20.
They made the most of it, too, as McAvoy tied things up with Boston’s lone power play goal on a laser past Binnington at 12:41 of the second.
The team celebrated their 2011 Stanley Cup run with a handful of former Bruins — including Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton and Rich Peverley (to name a few) — highlighting the pregame festivities. McAvoy, Clifton and countless others made their first Cup Final appearance in Game 1 — and delivered.
Sean ‘Big Game’ Kuraly delivers another clutch moment.
He’s fit in seamlessly on the fourth line during the last two seasons. But Kuraly’s clutch moments go beyond bottom forward trio recognition.
Just look at his track record of timely goals heading into Game 1: the Winter Classic go-ahead tally, a backbreaking third-period goal in Game 7 to prevent a Maple Leafs comeback, and an important lamplighter against his hometown Blue Jackets in Game 4 to help the Bruins even their second-round series.
Add one more goal to the list, his biggest one yet. The former Sharks prospect capped off his two-point night tapping home a Noel Acciari feed past Binnington for his third of the postseason at 5:21 of the third to give the Bruins the lead for good.
“Trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy the game,” Kuraly said about relishing in big games. “We’ve got a group that makes things pretty easy and our leadership and the guys that have been here before kind of take a lot of the burden and kind of just let us play.”
Kuraly’s play helped him leap from a fourth line grinder to a pivotal cog in the Bruins’ lineup. It’s just another example of Don Sweeney‘s prowess after acquiring Kuraly in the trade with San Jose for Martin Jones three years ago.