BOSTON – Give Cam Neely credit.
At least he didn’t toss the bottle of water onto the ice. Several Boston Bruins fans didn’t show the same restraint in a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5, in which yet another mistake by the officials changed the outcome of a game – and quite possibly the Stanley Cup final.
Here we go again. Another blown call. Another game where the referees stole the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Put this one up with the overtime hand pass in Game 3 of the Western Conference final and the cross-checking penalty that helped eliminate the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. There have been others. More than we have room to list.
This one, because of the stakes, was easily the worst.
St. Louis was leading 1-0 midway through the third period when Blues centre Tyler Bozak tripped Noel Acciari with what looked like a slewfoot. Bozak immediately raised his hands in the air to plead his case. And the referees bought it, allowing the play to continue even though Acciari remained down on the ice in pain.
You can probably guess what happened next.
With Acciari out of the play, the puck went to Blues winger David Perron, who’s intended pass to Bozak banked in off Tuukka Rask’s pads. Instead of Boston going on the power play with a chance to send the game to overtime, St. Louis took a 2-0 lead that ended up being the difference.
What did Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy say to the officials?
“What was being said was, ‘You missed the effing call,'” said Cassidy. “That’s what was being said. We felt we got screwed. We did.”
With the win the Blues have a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win their first championship since becoming a franchise in 1967. The Bruins, meanwhile, join a laundry list of teams that have every reason to feel cheated in a post-season that has been marred by poor officiating.
“It should have been a penalty for sure,” said defenceman Torey Krug. “Anytime it leads to a scoring chance for the opposition, it’s got to be blown down, it’s got to be called. I’m all for letting plays go and playing hard, but even one at the end of the second there, they get a scoring chance out of it because the guy is holding my arm. It is what it is, we’ve got to accept it and move on.”
Neely, who is the Bruins president, chucked a water bottle in his private box in anger. Fans, meanwhile, littered the ice with bottles, towels and other debris. And while the Bruins were able to make the game close, with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal 6:28 in the final period, it wasn’t enough.
The Blues, who received lights-out goaltending from Jordan Binnington, are one win away from winning first championship in Game 6 on Sunday in St. Louis.
“We pushed to score. We did,” said Cassidy. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it by (Binnington) in the end.”
The goal marred what should have been a warm welcome for the unlikely return of Zdeno Chara, who played with a broken jaw suffered in Game 4.
If the playoffs are a war of attrition, the visual of a 42-year-old Chara skating around with his mouth shielded behind a protective visor tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Bruins these days.
This is a team that isn’t healthy. Defenceman Matt Grzelcyk hasn’t played since having his head rammed into the end glass in Game 2. And whether they admit it or not, something is wrong with Patrice Bergeron, who hasn’t played his best hockey in a long while.
Meanwhile, the Blues are playing with the unbridled energy of a team that has the song Gloria playing on repeat on in heads. This is a team that smells blood. More than that, with a 3-2 series lead, for the first time in the playoffs the Stanley Cup is in their immediate sights.
For the Blues, who had been the worst team in the NHL on Jan. 2, the impossible is looking possible. For the Bruins, it’s looking desperate. Not that it wasn’t looking that way already.
Chara ended up playing the entire game for the Bruins. And he ended up playing a lot, delivering and receiving hits like it was no thing. But there were times, like when he and Charlie McAvoy got caught chasing the same man behind the net on St. Louis’ first goal that Ryan O’Reilly scored 55 seconds into the second period, when he maybe he shouldn’t have.
Nursing a 1-0 lead in the third period, Perron scored the pivotal caught Acciari with what looked like a trip deep in Boston’s zone. As Acciari lay on the ice in pain, the play continued and Perron banked an intended pass off the inside of Rask’s pad to make it 2-0.
“It puts us in a 2-0 hole,” said DeBrusk. “Obviously with the way they played, it makes it tougher. But I think there was about 10 minutes left, there’s still enough time. We just need that first one.”
With 6:28 remaining in the third period, the Bruins finally made it 2-1 on a one-timer from Jake DeBrusk that Binnington got some of but not enough. From there, it was a goalie duel – one that Binnington won with a little help from the referees.
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