BOSTON – Twice the Boston Bruins have been forced to finish a Stanley Cup Final game down a defenseman. The St. Louis Blues won each time.
That's not a coincidence.
Wearing out opponents and winning the war of attrition has been an ingredient of the Blues' playoff success. They took advantage of injuries to San Jose's Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl to move on to the final, and with Boston potentially without captain Zdeno Chara for Game 5 today, St. Louis is now two victories away from lifting the Stanley Cup as the healthier team.
“We can see it throughout games and throughout series,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said Wednesday. “It's tough minutes to play against our forward lines when they're playing the way they can. You can see the momentum we create by our line changes in the offensive zone, we're just using all four lines. If I was a defenseman, that would be tough to defend against.”
Chara did not go to the arena at all Wednesday, 36 hours after taking a puck to the jaw in Boston's Game 4 loss that tied the series at two games apiece. Coach Bruce Cassidy didn't talk to and only briefly texted with the 42-year-old defenseman, who has a facial injury that has been reported to be a broken jaw.
Just like the Sharks series in the Western Conference final, the Blues insist their game plan doesn't change depending on who's in or out of the lineup on the other side. That includes Chara, even though missing him on the penalty kill and defensively could make a big difference.
“We prepare for a game from our side,” Conn Smythe Trophy candidate Vladimir Tarasenko said. “We can control our game. We don't know what's going to happen if he's going to play or no. We just follow our plan.”
The absence of Chara could prove to be the tipping point in a bruising battle between the Bruins and Blues. Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is out with a concussion and St. Louis forward Robert Thomas is out with a suspected hand or wrist injury. Cassidy said Grzelcyk, who practiced in a no-contact jersey Wednesday, is in concussion protocol and would need to be medically cleared to play tonight.
Meanwhile, St. Louis is relatively healthy.
It appears rugged Robert Bortuzzo will return to the lineup in place of Joel Edmundson, who had his ice time reduced for performance reasons by coach Craig Berube in Game 4. Bortuzzo came out when Dunn was ready to return but has two goals in the past two rounds despite not being much of a scorer.
Berube has tweaked far more in this series than previous rounds, all the while counting on St. Louis to not stray from its straightforward game that thrives off punishes opponents.
“We have to keep pounding them,” forward Patrick Maroon said. “We just got keep doing the same thing. Our team's not flashy at all. It's north-south. Dumping it in. Wearing teams down.
“When we don't do that, their defense is effective in moving up in the play. Odd-man rushes. The 'D' can jump higher. When we're doing well, we're limiting their time and space. We're wearing them down.”
Stanley Cup final
Boston vs. St. Louis
Series tied 2-2
Game 1: Boston 4, St. Louis 2
Game 2: St. Louis 3, Boston 2 (OT)
Game 3: Boston 7, St. Louis 2
Game 4: St. Louis 4 , Boston 2
Game 5: Today, at Boston, 8 p.m.
Game 6: Sunday, at St. Louis, 8 p.m.
Game 7: Wednesday, at Boston, 8 p.m.*