BOSTON – Once again St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube is sending messages through the media leading into a winner-take-all Game 7 against the Bruins for the Stanley Cup.
The words are coming off a 5-1 win for the B’s in Game 6 where Boston exploded for four goals in the third period and the Blues didn’t have the same physical edge they showed at times throughout the best-of-seven series. Not so coincidentally, the Blues also didn’t have a player suspended in the wake of the game for only the fourth time in the six Cup Final games played thus far leading into Wednesday night’s Game 7.
The Blues are already the first team in Stanley Cup Final history to have a pair of players suspended in the NHL’s showcase event. Oskar Sundqvist was given a one-game suspension for running Matt Grzelcyk from behind at the beginning of the series, and Ivan Barbashev had to sit for a game after throwing a head shot at Marcus Johansson in the opening minutes of Game 5.
Now it seems that Berube is actively encouraging the Blues to get back to that level of dirty hits designed to injure players as the Blues bench boss lamented the lack of physicality from his team in the Game 6 loss on home ice.
“I think we can be more physical than we were last game. That will help in penalty killing. Just being the player that [Ivan Barbashev] is, that line, we can use them against anybody and they can do the job,” said Berube, when asked about Barbashev drawing back into the lineup after serving his one-game suspension in Game 6. “Who knows what goes on, what goes through guys' heads, things like that?
“A lot of times you just don't get there in time to make the contact. You don't want to chase it, but when it's there, you're on your toes. I think a lot of it personally, just watching the game today, our puck placement wasn't great to make the hits, things like that. Also, too, I mean, maybe it runs through their head they don't want to take a penalty, making a bad hit. We got to be aggressive. That's our style. That's the way we have success.”
On the surface Berube is saying that his Blues team can be more physical than they were in Game 6, but it also sounds like he’s tacitly giving the green light for his players to pin their ears back and “be aggressive” without fear of penalties holding them back.
After all, what does a suspension for next season matter to a desperate Blues team as they enter a Game 7 for all the marbles on Wednesday night?
Adding even less of a deterrent, the NHL has shown a complete unwillingness to call an in-game major penalty in these Stanley Cup Playoffs dating back to the first round when the call on Joe Pavelski completely changed the direction of the San Jose Sharks/Vegas Golden Knights first-round playoff series.
So what downside is there for the Blues to start running Bruins players to take them out of a decisive Game 7, and then next season go ahead and pay whatever supplemental discipline tab comes due?
Series-long targets like Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, David Pastrnak and Marcus Johansson will have to watch their backs, and it feels like on-ice awareness will be key for every Bruins player.
Surely the B's realize all of this headed into a Game 7 scenario where they have plenty of past experience, and it will be a part of a game plan where the Bruins power play will need to make the Blues pay dearly should they cross the line with bad hits and worse intent.
One thing is for sure. It’s been eight years since there’s been a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final and this one is setting up to be a nasty piece of business between a pair of hockey clubs that have engaged in serious battle over the first six games.
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