By STEPHEN WHYNO
The Associated Press
BOSTON — Jake DeBrusk got a step on Robert Bortuzzo and he was off to the races.
Despite missing the net on the breakaway, the message was already sent.
Two minutes into the Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins flashed the speed and skill that got them to this point and exploited it to beat the St. Louis Blues in the series opener. If the Blues have any hope in Game 2 Wednesday night and beyond, they will have to slow down the Bruins somehow, some way.
“There’s different ways that you can wear guys down whether it’s physicality or speed,” DeBrusk said. “That’s the game now. That’s how you have to play. It’s just races to loose pucks and then playing physical when the opportunity presents itself.”
Game 1 will be remembered for 5-foot-9 Boston defenseman Torey Krug’s helmetless hit on Robert Thomas, but the Bruins won because they came at the Blues in waves. They got contributions up and down the lineup and played a style that flustered St. Louis into turnovers and a 30-12 shot disadvantage in the final two periods.
The fact that 77.2 percent of teams that win Game 1 go on capture the Cup doesn’t much matter to Blues coach Craig Berube and his players. The Blues, after all, climbed from last place in the NHL on Jan. 3 all the way to the final. They also responded well after a similar, sluggish start to the Western Conference final against San Jose.
Armed with that confidence, the Blues understand the key to earning a split in Boston is stunting their opponents’ relentless rush.
“It’s not feeding into their transition as much,” center Ryan O’Reilly said. “When we have an opportunity to put it behind them and play that 200-foot game, we need to because you give them the opportunities, they can move the puck real quick and they come at you full speed. It’s not giving them any real easy opportunities.”
Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak had zero points at even strength , but in the end the Bruins didn’t need them on the score sheet. Coach Bruce Cassidy credited team defense for Boston’s eight-game playoff winning streak, the first in the NHL since the L.A. Kings in 2012 — just don’t overlook how all the layers of offense can affect opponents.
“Usually the teams that are still left here are the teams that have that depth and four lines who can skate and wear teams down,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. “It’s not just two, three lines doing that. It’s every time a line’s out there making something happen whether it’s something little or scoring a big goal or playing solid defensively or wearing them down in their own end. That’s hard to play against through four continuous lines.”
Maybe a game-winner and primary assist from fourth-line forward Sean Kuraly and a goal by third-pairing defenseman Connor Clifton wasn’t in the script, but the Bruins’ depth was no secret coming into the series. Neither was the potency of its power play, which cashed in on the fourth of five St. Louis penalties in Game 1 and is always a threat to score.
Getting back to discipline is one necessary ingredient for St. Louis, as is limiting turnovers. The Blues want to turn the tables on the Bruins and make them defend instead of cranking up the offense.
“We need a lot more O-zone time,” Berube said. “They’re a good forecheck team. They pressure, they’ve got good speed, they’re a well-structured hockey team. Our puck support wasn’t very good in the second and third period and puck play in general. Just too many turnovers. We need better support, better puck play.”
Cassidy and his staff figured out after the first intermission that Boston could skate wide around the Blues’ bigger defense and create scoring chances that way. Now it’s on Berube and his blue liners to close off that avenue to the net — which is easier said than done.
“They obviously have a lot of skilled players: They’re small and fast and they make plays,” Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. “Trying to eliminate them from getting to speed just coming out of their D-zone is obviously crucial. If we can eliminate our blue line from them and allow them to carry it in over our blue line, that’s a big thing.”