The moment was there. The bright and shiny Stanley Cup in the house. Anticipation high. The 52-year wait almost over.
It’s not over yet.
The Boston Bruins spoiled the party Sunday night, defeating the Blues 5-1 at Enterprise Center.
The Bruins were opportunistic on offense and air-tight on defense. When challenged by the Blues, goalie Tuukka Rask was up to the challenge.
So this Stanley Cup Final series is now tied 3-3 with a deciding Game 7 Wednesday at TD Garden in Boston.
“Listen, if you told me four months ago we were going to be in the Finals in Game 7, I think I’d take it,” coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve been a good road team. We’ve won twice up there in this series, so we’re a confident group.”
Nothing has come easy for the Blues this season, and that’s certainly the case this postseason. The Blues were down two games to one in the Western Conference Final against San Jose after the Hand Pass game - and won the next three.
They were down 3-2 against Dallas in Round 2 and facing elimination in Game 6 at American Airlines Center. They won the next two to close out the series.
Even in Round 1 against Winnipeg they were in danger of losing their third game in row, but rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period for a Game 5 win and then won the series in six.
Now they must win a Game 7 in Boston to win their first Stanley Cup ever.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and we’re confident,” said Ryan O’Reilly, who scored the Blues’ only goal. “We’re a great road team. That’s our story. We gotta get it done on the road.”
But for the seventh time in 13 postseason home games, the Blues couldn’t get it done at Enterprise. It certainly wasn’t for lack of fan support.
“It was crazy,” David Perron said. “We stayed at the hotel (near Enterprise) in the afternoon, and you could hear people honking and yelling, ‘Let’s Go Blues!’ You could see people walking up and down the street. It was a cool sighting. ...”
As the final seconds ticked down on Sunday, the crowd of 18,890 chanted “Let’s Go Blues!” and “We Want the Cup!” after the team’s final home game of the season.
Don’t confuse this game with the Blues’ 7-2 shellacking in Game 3 here June 1. The Blues had a good start, gave up a 5-on-3 power-play goal 8 minutes 40 seconds into play, but trailed only 1-0 entering the third period.
“I thought it was an even game, really,” Berube said. “Two periods, it’s tight hockey. There’s not a lot of room out there.
“I’ll credit Boston. They played well. They checked well. They didn’t give us a ton of room out there. I didn’t think we gave them much either. Can we play better? Yeah, we can play better. But I thought we handled the pressure (of the moment) pretty well.”
The game — and the Cup — were there for the taking as the period began. But the Blues couldn’t take them.
Just 2½ minutes into the third, Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo sent a knucklepuck toward Jordan Binnington from just inside the blueline. It took a bad hop as it approached Binnington and went in for a 2-0 lead.
It was a huge goal, especially considering how well Rask and the Boston defense were playing.
Binnington was testy when asked what happened on the goal.
“Did you watch it?” Binnington asked a reporter.
(Yes, was the reply.)
“Did it bounce?” Binnington asked.
(Yes, was the reply.)
“Good eye,” Binnington said.
Midway through the third, it became 3-0 Boston when 23-year-old Karson Kuhlman beat Binnington far side.
O’Reilly gave the Blues a pulse when his fourth goal in three games trimmed the lead to 3-1. But just two minutes later, with 5:54 left to play, David Pastrnak scored the first even-strength goal of the series for the Bruins’ top line — the “Perfection Line” it’s called.
And that was it for Game 6, with Zdeno Chara adding an empty-netter with 2:19 left to close out the scoring.
“It obviously wasn’t good enough,” O’Reilly said of the Blues’ performance. “Obviously not the start that we wanted. Bad play by myself there to take the penalty there to take it to 5-on-3.
“It took the wind out of our sails and it took too long for us to climb back in. Their second goal was a lucky bounce. Just kind of bounced up on Binner. Not much we could do there. We just didn’t respond the right way.”
Given the potent Boston power play, the Blues have stressed all series the importance of staying out of the box and avoiding silly penalties. Well, Brayden Schenn was sent to the box for boarding at the 7:17 mark of the first, and then 62 seconds later O’Reilly joined him — sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
After just 21 seconds of 5-on-3 play, the Bruins were on the board on Brad Marchand’s back-door one-timer.
Special teams have been a problem for the Blues throughout this series, and Sunday was no different. The Blues went 0-for-4 on the power play, running their tally to 1-for-18 for the series. Meanwhile, the Bruins are 7-for-21 on the power play this series.
Without the special teams domination, this series would be over and the Blues would be Cup champions.
“We had 12 shots (on the power play),” Berube said. “We did have momentum, we had some good looks. We didn’t score. Rask made some good saves. Can it be better? Yeah, it has to be better. ... We’ve definitely got to bury a couple.”