BOSTON — Perhaps you could call it a Venus flytrap approach to hockey.
One thing that’s been as plainly evident as the color of the puck during these playoffs is that the Boston Bruins don’t beat teams as much as they force their opponents to beat themselves.
Want to take dumb penalties, as the St. Louis Blues did on multiple occasions Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final? The Bruins encourage that. If you choose to do so while in the offensive zone, as the Blues foolishly did twice on Monday, all the better.
Want to run around, try to get under the skin of guys like Torey Krug or Brad Marchand or David Backes or anyone else sporting a Black-and-Gold sweater, trying to throw them off their game? Be our guest, say the Bruins, be know this: it’s hard for any student to pull one over on the master, and in the art of NHL needling and baiting, the Bruins reign supreme.
You think you can beat them with speed, toughness or goaltending? For every move you make, the Bruins will counter before eventually declaring ‘checkmate’ and it’s game over for you.
“We’re good when we’re skating and we’re hard on pucks,” said Sean Kuraly, the fourth line grinder whose goal five-plus minutes into the third period Monday snapped a 2-2 tie and gave Boston the lead for good. “I think the physicality just comes out just naturally from some of our guys, just the compete in us. You saw that like with the hit from Torey (Krug, when he blasted St. Louis forward Robert Thomas with a thunderous open ice hit).
“But yeah, I think we just try and play our game. And usually when we do that we’re skating, we’re having fun, we have the puck, and things are going well.”
Now, one game of a championship final does not a series make. Anyone old enough to have watched the 1985 NBA Finals can easily recall the Celtics destroying their hated rivals from Los Angeles, 148-114, in what came to be known as the Memorial Day Massacre. Five games and four victories later, however, it was the Lakers, not Boston, that wore the NBA crown.
Mssrs. Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand and Rask can wax poetic about their own experience here, dropping the first two contests of the 2011 Cup Final in Vancouver before winning the series in seven games.
So while Monday’s 4-2 Game 1 win was satisfying for the Bruins, it certainly doesn’t give them a stranglehold on the series. A St. Louis victory Wednesday at TD Garden would flip that script on its head, not only tying the championship final at one game apiece by giving them the edge with Games 3 (Saturday) and 4 (Monday) back home at the Enterprise Center.
What they can do to increase their odds, though, is keep drawing St. Louis in, believing they’re getting the better of the Bruins in one way or another.
The Blues are worthy of representing the West in this Stanley Cup Final. They’ve got redwoods on defense who play a punishing style, a rookie goalie who doesn’t seem fazed by the stage he finds himself on, a couple of bonafide scorers up front in Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, and a roster that’s got depth and skill. They like to take advantage of individual matchups, minimize the scoring opportunities for their foes and play in-your-face hockey.
The only problem is Boston has, and does, all of those same things — and they do them better.
And as long as the Bruins don’t get sucked into the very same aspects of the game that they’re much better at imposing on others, they’ll draw ever closer to the elusive silver chalice they’ve all been dreaming of.
Phil Stacey covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.