ST. LOUIS — The Bruins were in survival mode from the get-go.
A goal from Ryan O’Reilly just 43 seconds in, a second period injury to Zdeno Chara — forcing the Bruins to skate with five defensemen for the second time in three games — and lengthy shifts in the defensive end hemmed the Bruins in a tough spot in Game 4 against the Blues.
Like Game 2, however, Bruce Cassidy’s squad still had their chances to steal a victory. Both Charlie Coyle (at 13:14 of the first) and Brandon Carlo (a shorthanded tally at 14:19 of the second) delivered timely goals to counter O’Reilly’s first of two on the night and Vladamir Tarasenko’s 11th of the postseason (at 15:30 of the first). But a night of juicy rebounds from Tuukka Rask and a strong Blues finish — sparked by O’Reilly’s second of the night and Brayden Schenn — did the Bruins in.
“We never said it was going to be an easy series, right? So there are no surprises there,” Patrice Bergeron said following Boston’s 4-2 loss at Enterprise Center. “We just have to obviously learn from tonight, but also be ready for the next game.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins and Blues enter a best-of-three scenario for hockey’s ultimate prize beginning Thursday night at TD Garden.
The Bruins had big challenges without Chara.
Boston’s 6-foot-9 captain donned a fishbowl as he returned to the bench for the third period in a supportive role. He never touched the ice for a shift as the Bruins played the 23:07 with five defensemen — Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, John Moore, and Connor Clifton.
Like Game 2 without Matt Grzelcyk, the Bruins spent taxing minutes in their defensive end. The forward support wasn’t there on a night where Rask left several rebounds in prime scoring areas. The Bruins simply couldn’t get any transition going from defense to offense as the Blues’ aggressive forecheck and puck pursuit proved too much to overcome.
“We’ve talked a lot about the defense here. Personally, I feel the forwards need to do a way better job with our D out,” Cassidy said after watching the Blues out-shoot his team, 38-23. “The onus has to go on them. They have to pull their weight in helping out the D and finishing their plays. We had some lines tonight with very few shot attempts. To rely on a 2-1 game, we can win those games, but they’re going to have to pull their weight.”
The Bruins had too many passengers Monday. That doesn’t bode well on any given night, let alone one without two of their important defensive cogs.
And now they may enter next man up mode in Game 5. Cassidy mentioned Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jeremy Lauzon as potential options. That’s far from ideal as the trio have a combined one postseason game under their belt during Boston’s Cup Final run.
Rask wasn’t sharp with his rebounds.
Every goaltender gives up rebounds. It’s only human nature that comes with the territory. Even Rask’s counterpart, Jordan Binnington, fell victim to the rebound bug as Coyle and Carlo notched tallies following respective shots by Chara and Bergeron.
Alex Pietrangelo set Tarasenko up in the first period. He followed that up in the third after firing a point shot that handcuffed Rask. O’Reilly pounced to bury the go-ahead goal as the scrambling Bruins couldn’t clear Rask’s juicy rebound.
“Ladies tee, slap shot, couldn’t control it,” Rask said about O’Reilly’s second of the night, “rebound, goal.”
Rask is having a postseason for the ages. But this felt a little deja vu to Game 4 of the 2013 series against the Blackhawks where he allowed six goals in one of his sloppiest career postseason outings.
Like Binnington, Rask delivered bounce-back performances throughout these playoffs. He’s won all but one of his postseason starts coming off a loss, allowing 12 goals in six such instances. That came in Game 3 against the Blue Jackets, a game where Rask allowed just two goals against Sergei Bobrovsky.
That task may be tough potentially without Chara and Grzelcyk for Game 5. Even if one — or both — of the left-shot defensemen returns, Rask’s rebound control has to improve entering a pivotal showdown.
The Bruins need to make their playoff records mean something.
Boston’s historically potent power play in Game 3 didn’t replicate following its historic 4-for-4 showing, as they went 0-for-2 in Game 4. Yet, amidst all the ugliness, the Bruins set another franchise record Monday night.
Carlo’s first ever playoff goal marked the 20th different Bruin to light the lamp this postseason, surpassing the 1988 Bruins for most in franchise history. Only the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers had more players tally at least one goal in a single postseason as 21 different members of their roster scored during their run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins want their record to mean something in a bigger picture. Every member of Boston’s roster that suited up for a playoff game had something to do with getting them to this point. The last thing they want is to make their records a mere footnote in Stanley Cup lore.