BOSTON — Nastiness. Lots and lots of nastiness.
The intensity, emotions and, without question, the physicality were all ramped up considerably Wednesday night at TD Garden. Sticks were raised in anger, tempers flared like Roman candles on the Fourth of July, and the hatred that some wondered might not come in this Stanley Cup Final certainly began to manifest itself as a total of 76 hits were delivered during regulation play.
The Bruins certainly had to know that the St. Louis Blues would come out mean and hungry following their Game 1 loss Monday night to open the Stanley Cup Final. Missing young forward Robert Thomas — M.I.A. for Game 2 after the now-infamous truck job that Bruins defenseman Torey Krug did on him during the third period of the opener — was like pouring gasoline on a fire to the Western Conference champs.
So the Blues made it their mission to come out hitting anything wearing a Black-and-Gold sweater on this unseasonably cool late May evening, intent on not letting their hosts control the flow of play as well as the momentum.
Even as the teams traded goals in the first period — Charlie Coyle (on the power play) and Joakim Nordstrom potted scores for Boston, Robert Bortuzzo and Vladimir Tarasenko answering for St. Louis — the Western Conference champions were hell-bent in proving they would do anything to to remain viable in this series.
So when fourth line center Oskar Sundqvist came in high and hard on the forecheck and blasted Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in the head with his elbow behind the Boston net, Game 2 shifted.
St. Louis was playing for keeps. Boston had to find a way to respond ... and survive without one of their best defensemen during this playoff run.
That theory will be tested after Carl Gunnarsson blasted home a slap shot on a delayed penalty 3:51 into overtime, giving the Blues a 3-2 victory and tying this series at one game apiece.
It was the Blues’ first-ever victory in a Stanley Cup Final, having lost their previous 13 attempts.
Grzelcyk was down for a spell before finally getting to his feet and slowly skating back to his bench, heading straight down the runway to be checked out. He never returned, playing just seven shifts covering 4 minutes and 29 seconds.
Should Grzelcyk miss any time moving forward as the series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday, the obvious question is: who’ll replace him? He’s done a great job paired with Clifton as the No. 3 unit and also adds to the strength of the second power play group, so any extended absence would certainly be felt.
With alternate captain Kevan Miller getting close to a return to game action but likely not quite ready, the Bruins would have two options: John Moore or Steven Kampfer. Steady and defensive minded, both are suitable fill-ins, but each lack that oomph that Grzelcyk brings on virtually every shift.
Playoff hockey is a game of attrition. When bodies collide at high speeds in confines spaces, injuries are bound to occur.
Should Grzelcyk’s services become unavailable moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see how the Bruins respond, both in regards to their lineup and answering the St. Louis Blues, since we’ve now got an honest-to-goodness series on our hands.
Phil Stacey covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN