The missed call from Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final stings for the Boston Bruins, but they still have a chance to fight back from the St. Louis Blues’ 3-2 series lead, and make sure that the controversy is a footnote, rather than a lasting memory.
If nothing else, the Bruins can look to their opponents for an example of bouncing back from that painful call, as Boston hopes to do in Game 6 at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).
The Blues could have sulked after the Sharks got away with a hand pass before scoring a big overtime goal in Round 3, but if that happened, it mostly occurred behind closed doors. The Blues responded to that setback by winning the next three games of the Western Conference Final to eliminate the Sharks, transforming that missed call from a catastrophe to a mere bump in the road.
When it comes to rebounding from 3-2 deficits and tough calls, the Bruins also have their own firsthand experience, as Bruce Cassidy noted on Friday (via Michael Traikos’ transcript):
“We can draw on previous experience,” Cassidy said about the Bruins’ approach to Game 6. “This particular group went into Toronto, in a tough environment, first round, won a game on the road and came back and won it at home. That’s why we’re still playing. One of the reasons. The group that won the Cup (in 2011) had to win the last two. They were down 3-2 … They lived it. There’s some motivation that goes into it, but at this point of the year they know what’s at stake.”
Indeed, the Bruins can look to the frustration they had falling behind Toronto 3-2 in Round 1 after Zach Hyman might have gotten away with goalie interference on Auston Matthews‘ crucial Game 5 goal:
Boston bounced back from that to win that series in seven games, as they hope to do in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
“We’ve done it before, for sure,” Krug said, via the Bruins’ website. “There’s a lot of different ways we’ve won series, won hockey games, and it’s just another test for this group. We haven’t done anything easy this year. We’ve put ourselves against the wall a lot this season, so it’ll be another test. I think we will be ready to go.”
Really, the Bruins can even take a certain level of pride from how they responded to being down 2-0 in Game 5.
While they couldn’t beat Jordan Binnington enough to tie things up, they finally broke through late in the third period to make it 2-1, and give themselves a chance. It’s likely that the bitterness continued, yet the Bruins still kept hammering away.
Both the Bruins and Blues have had moments where they could’ve been derailed by tough losses and controversial calls. Instead, neither team blinked, and that’s a big reason why they’re battling out in this rugged, hard-fought Stanley Cup Final.
It won’t be easy, but chances are, the Bruins will bring another strong effort in Game 6 at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).
In fact, the Bruins’ opponents in St. Louis had already been on both sides of some of the most pivotal, polarizing calls of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before Game 5.
Let’s run down some of the biggest controversies of this postseason, starting with Thursday’s non-call. As a note: not every call was necessarily wrong, and this isn’t a comprehensive list, so feel free to air officiating grievances (or grievances about officiating grievances) in the comments.
Should it be considered a trip, a slew-foot, or no penalty at all? Well, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline, it sure seemed like Tyler Bozak thought he was going to the penalty box – just ask Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy – for taking down Noel Acciari.
At that point, the Blues were up 1-0, but moments after that non-call, Ryan O'Reilly found David Perron for what would eventually stand as the game-winning goal.
If the call was made, it would have still been 1-0 rather than 2-0 for the Blues, and the Bruins would have headed to the power play. It’s also worth noting that a) the Bruins seemed discombobulated by that turn of events and b) Acciari was taken out of the play, effectively making it a 5-on-4 situation, so that turn of events also heightened the Blues’ chances of scoring that goal.
The hand pass
It doesn’t get much more pivotal than a blown call in overtime, at least if that call leads to a deciding goal.
The Blues took the high road following that controversy, and eventually won their series against the Sharks, while top officials noted that the play was not reviewable. Could that be one of those moments that changes the goal review process in 2019-20? We shall see.
Should that play have been offside? Was there even some room to look at it as too many men on the ice? It was a strange situation, either way, and another moment that worked out for San Jose, as the Sharks ultimately eliminated Colorado.
The Golden Knights were up 3-0 against the Sharks in Game 7 of Round 1, and then Cody Eakin was whistled for a major penalty after his check (and a bump from Paul Stastny) led to a terrifying, bloody fall for Joe Pavelski.
Most would agree that Eakin deserved to be penalized, while the debate revolves around it being a major and game misconduct. The human element of the situation cannot be ignored, as officials saw a scary scene where Pavelski was bleeding, and it happened in front of a San Jose crowd.
This is another play that might have a ripple effect. Will the NHL decide to make major penalties (or discussions of major penalties) subject to video review?
It’s crucial to mention that it must be difficult to officiate any sport, let alone one as fast-paced as hockey. For every call you miss or make, there’s someone behind the scenes complaining about too many or too few calls. After all, Bruce Cassidy believes that Craig Berube’s complaints about officials changed the “narrative” of the Stanley Cup Final.
Getting these calls correct, all the time, is a prime example of “Easier said than done.”
Still, for fans and teams who feel slighted, these moments will reverberate, at least if their runs don’t end with a Stanley Cup victory.
Are there any moments that stand out to you, beyond the five splashy ones above? If you want to dig up old gripes about Wayne Gretzky high-sticking Doug Gilmour, have at it. Replaying those major, split-second decisions is half the fun/agony of being a hockey fan, right?
Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).
As you can see from the press conference footage above this post’s headline, Cassidy went on to make those comments about “egregious” officiating after opening with comments about the best officials getting to call the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins head coach said that Tyler Bozak was essentially heading to the penalty box after the perceived infraction on Noel Acciari, yet no call was made. Here’s that controversial moment once again, for context:
NHL senior vice president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom addressed the controversy with this quick statement, via a PHWA pool reporter:
“We don’t make comments on judgment calls within games. There are hundreds of judgment calls in every game. The official on the play, he viewed it, and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time.”
While that comes across as a little dry, the most interesting phrasing is that the official “viewed it, and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time.” There’s no claim of all four on-ice officials missing the could-be penalty entirely. This is as about as much as you’ll get from the league’s officials (and those overseeing them) right after a game, as they don’t do press conferences.
If you’re wondering if the officials didn’t want to seem like they were playing favorites, consider that the Bruins went 0-for-3 on the power play in Game 5, while the Blues couldn’t connect on their only chance. That moment also came fairly late in the third period, and the perception is that officials are that much more reluctant to call penalties that deep into playoff games.
All of that context merely fuels speculation, though, as we only get “he viewed it, and he didn’t view it as a penalty at the time” as feedback from an authority on the subject.
To little surprise, the Blues didn’t have a ton to say about the controversy after winning Game 5.
Whether the Bruins let this linger or take this setback in stride, the bottom line is that they’re on the brink of elimination as the scene shifts back to St. Louis. Boston will need to win two games in a row, while the Blues are one victory away from their first-ever Stanley Cup. Chances are, the Blues won’t see their party ruined by worries about getting a call or two go their way.
Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).
ST. LOUIS — Brian Boucher was able to experience the two sides of Craig Berube in professional hockey.
During his rookie season in 1999-00, the then-22-year-old Boucher was a teammate of Berube’s on the Philadelphia Flyers. At that time, Berube was in his 16th season and had nearly 800 NHL games under his belt. The veteran tough guy was well-liked and kept guys honest in the dressing room. More importantly, he wasn’t afraid to speak up, even on a team that featured a number of players who had plenty of career success like Mark Recchi, Eric Lindros, Rick Tocchet, Eric Desjardins, and John LeClair.
Berube’s personality was a hit with teammates because he could crack a joke one minute then tell it straight when a player or the team needed a kick. Those qualities he possessed 20 years ago clearly still remain today as he was one of the key factors in the St. Louis Blues’ turnaround this season.
Boucher could see those traits back then.
“100%. He could talk to the best player on the team the same way would talk to his linemate on the fourth line,” said Boucher, who’s been analyst with NBC Sports since 2015. “There was no separation to him. He treated everybody the same. I think everybody had a ton of respect for him just because of the role that he played on the team. One of the toughest guys I’ve ever played with in the NHL.”
Berube compiled 3,149 penalty minutes in his NHL career with 241 fights, per HockeyFights.com, helping make up that large number. So when he transitioned to an assistant coach role with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate in 2004-05, the players knew his resume and respected him for the way he played the game.
His approach in communicating with players was and remains a simple one: there are no games. Berube tells it like it is and in a black and white manner.
“You’re not confused when you speak with him,” said Boucher, “you know exactly what the message is. I think guys really appreciate that. Whether it’s at the NHL level or the AHL, they just want to know where they stand, what their role is going to be and how to execute it.”
When Blues general manager hung the still-remaining (for now) interim tag on Berube in November, the new head coach had an advantage compared to an outsider entering the situation. He knew the roster. He knew the skill level of the players, and his relationship with them was already good having been in the assistant coach role where you typically assume the “good cop” role.
Berube had confidence in his team, something that he noticed the players were lacking as they sat with a 7-9-3 record.
“It’s a good hockey team, got good players,” Berube said at the introductory press conference. “We’ve got to get moving in the right direction.”
It took time, but but his message eventually began to resonate.
Brayden Schenn has seen what Berube can do. In six of his last eight years in the NHL he’s had Berube as either a head coach or an assistant. The pair were with the Flyers in Berube’s two seasons there after he replaced Peter Laviolette early in the 2013-14 season.
Schenn saw Berube do in St. Louis what he was able to do in a short time in Philadelphia.
“Just got us to believe,” Schenn said. “Believe in one another, believe we’re a good hockey team. He took down the standing board in the room and worried about one game at a time, and that’s really all it was.”
When Berube was elevated, the Blues sat 30th in the NHL. The process of improvement took some time as St. Louis won only nine of their first 20 games under Berube, and we all know the climb up the mountain began after being dead last in the league on Jan. 3.
“Just don’t look back” is Berube’s mantra. Everyone knew how bad the team’s record was, but that was in the past. The Blues couldn’t change yesterday so they had to focus on changing tomorrow.
Things looked bleak for the Blues at the start of the new year. Had the tailspin continued into February, Armstrong’s comment after firing Mike Yeo about his patience with the core group being “at its thinnest point” could have led to major changes to the roster. But he held firm and began to see some light. Confidence was coming back and Jordan Binnington was soon on his way.
Four months later the Blues are playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.
“It is about the players,” said Berube. “They’re the ones that go out and do the job and play. They’ve really bought into what we want from them. I think when we took over, we wanted a team-first mentality. We wanted to put the team first. We wanted to get these guys playing for each other on a nightly basis. That was the biggest turnaround for this hockey team.”
Tyler Bozak appreciates Berube’s direct approach. He also enjoys the coach’s style in dealing with players.
“He’s almost a teammate at times out there,” he said. “Then he’s also very demanding at the same time. It’s a pretty cool dynamic.”
When Berube speaks, players and teammates listen. Boucher remembers that well.
“When he has to get a message across, he gets a message across,” he said. “It doesn’t take forever to get it across. He’s direct, to the point. You understand where he’s coming from. … He hasn’t lost that as a coach. He’s not afraid and go tease a guy or make fun of a guy — not in a way that would embarrass a player, but the kind that would bring a group together. There’s a real skill to that and you have to have the respect of guys to do that.”
Berube will shed the “interim” part from his title this summer. Armstrong’s stated plan back in November that he was going to cast a wide net in a coaching search has been whittled down to a list of one. Along with consistent goaltending, all the Blues needed was some confidence and the right messenger.
“He has conviction when he speaks,” said Boucher. “If he says something, he’s thought about it and when he believes in something, you believe him.”
Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.
After blowing out the San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, the St. Louis Blues moved one step closer to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in nearly 50 years. Given where this team was just a few months ago (when it was at the bottom of the Western Conference standings) it is one of the more stunning stories in what has already been a wild and unpredictable postseason.
But don’t be fooled by where this Blues team was in mid-January. They are good, and they absolutely deserve to be in the position they are in.
They were always better than their first half record would have had you believe, and once they solidified the goaltending position with the arrival — and ensuing emergence — of Jordan Binnington, as well as the improved defensive play after the coaching change from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube, they have played and looked like a Stanley Cup contender.
While it’s easy to point to the hiring of Berube and the call-up of Binnington as the turning points, general manager Doug Armstrong also deserves a ton of credit for the moves he has made over the past two years for getting this team to where it is.
That group of forwards represented four of the Blues’ top-six scorers this season (and four of the top-five among the forwards) and have all made their presence felt in the playoffs at one time or another.
The key for the Blues is not just that they added them, but how they were able to get them many of them.
Let’s start with the trades.
Going back to the summer of 2017, Armstrong made four significant trades that involved all of this.
Trading two-first round draft picks (the Blues’ own 2018 first-round pick, as well as a 2017 first-round pick they had previously acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade) and Jori Lehtera to the Philadelphia Flyers for Schenn.
Trading Ryan Reaves and a 2017 second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sundqvist and a 2017 first-round pick.
Trading Paul Stastny‘s expiring contract to the Winnipeg Jets for a package that included a 2018 first-round pick.
Trading Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for O’Reilly.
What have the Blues gained from all of that? Well let’s just take a look at what each player involved has done from the time of their trade through the end of the 2018-19 regular season.
Look at the difference in production. While Armstrong gave up more assets, he got significantly more production back in return and did so for a cheaper price against the salary cap (even if you subtract the Stastny cap hit out of that since he was leaving as a free agent anyway).
He shed a bunch of contracts he probably didn’t want (Lehtera, Sobotka, Berglund) and some draft picks to get top-line players (O’Reilly and Schenn) and a good young forward (Sundqvist) that has emerged as an effective bottom-six player.
Even though he gave up three first-round picks and two second-round picks, he still managed to get two first-round picks back in return. Even if you look at that as a net-loss in terms of assets, the success rate of mid-to-late first-and second-round picks is more than worth it when you look at just how much the Blues were able to get back in their lineup.
Especially if it ends up resulting in a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and especially since the NHL assets he sent away aren’t really anything special (Stastny being the exception — and even he wasn’t guaranteed to be back had he not been traded).
His free agent acquisitions this summer have also, for the most part, panned out.
Perron returned for his third different stint with the Blues and finished with 23 goals and 46 total points even though he played in only 56 regular season games.
Maroon signed a bargain-basement contract and gave the Blues a solid, two-way, possession-driving forward that also happened to score one of their biggest postseason goals when he scored in double overtime of Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the Dallas Stars.
The addition that has probably given them the least bang for their buck is probably Bozak ($5 million per year for three years), but even he has been a solid secondary producer.
Overall, pretty much every roster move Armstrong has put his fingerprints on over the past two years has worked out about as well as he and the Blues could have hoped. He is a deserving finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year award, and is a big reason his team is on the verge of what could be a historic season for the franchise.