If you’re still sorting out the culprits and divvying up the blame the morning after the Bruins’ 2-1 loss to the Blues in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, it’s understood why.
There weren’t enough hours in the overnight to make sense of a game that began with great inspiration, morphed into a massive frustration for multiple valid reasons, and ended with the Bruins on the brink of elimination.
Culprits? It’s tempting to ID them en masse just by saying everyone in a black-and-gold sweater. But that’s not entirely true, nor would it be fair.
Tuukka Rask (19 saves on 21 shots) was good enough in net, probably more than good enough. Marcus Johansson, at times in the first period especially, was the most dynamic player on the ice. Torey Krug absorbed dirty hits and continued to do his best to generate offense. Zdeno Chara, who secured a permanent place in Boston Sports Tough Guy lore by playing 16:42 despite reportedly breaking his jaw less than 72 hours earlier, was at least a decent facsimile of his usual self.
I can’t decide what is more surprising: That Chara was able to go, or that his team let the captain down so uninspiringly.
Oh, the Bruins played relatively inspired hockey in the first period, and outshot the Blues, 17-8. But they couldn’t pierce goalie Jordan Binnington (38 saves on 39 shots), who wasn’t spectacular or even all that solid, but just sort of there, hovering in the way of the Bruins’ aspirations.
The failure to find the back of the net seemed to add weight to the Boston skates. St. Louis scored 55 seconds into the second period when Zach Sanford flipped a lovely blind pass to Ryan O’Reilly, who beat Rask on the backhand.
The Bruins struggled to generate interesting opportunities for most of the second period, and the lethargy carried into the third. Once again, the usually dominant first line fell dormant, with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak generating 14 shots, but none of them especially effective or memorable. Pastrnak and Marchand continue to over-pass, as if someone they trust told them an assist counts for more than a goal in the Cup Final.
The best play made by a Bruins forward through the first two periods was a save by David Krejci, the usual second-line center who was dropped to the fourth line along with Jake DeBrusk for Game 5. Krejci’s timely Andy Moog imitation, occurring with Rask having just attended to business on the other side of the net, kept St. Louis from taking a 2-0 lead late in the second period.
While Krejci was saving the day, at least momentarily, the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist was busy keeping Krug pinned to the ice, holding him down like a big brother tormenting a younger sibling and threatening to drool on him while the parents are preoccupied. The officials did not notice his transgression.
Let’s be clear, if it isn’t already: The Bruins did not lose the most important game of their season because of Kelly Sutherland and the other inept officials, even though they seem to have heeded Blues coach Craig Berube’s bellyached pleas after Game 3 for fewer whistles against his team.
We’ve mentioned the Bruins’ chief culprits, identified their reasons for guilt. But there is absolutely no doubt that stunning ineptitude in the officiating contributed to their fate Thursday.
The officials didn’t steal victory from the Bruins. But they sure did stunt their chances of winning.
I’m not saying the Blues are a dirty team from the top line to the last defensive pairing, but if an “E:60” investigation reveals before Game 6 that three of them are descendants of the Hanson brothers, well, let Sundqvist, Colton Parayko, and Jay Bouwmeester have their toy cars and foil already.
The officials aren’t just letting them play with dubious physicality. They’re missing, if not outright ignoring, the most egregious offenses. One particular missed/ignored called Thursday night was so puzzling, so angering, that it assured Sutherland of being this generation’s Ben Dreith or Larry Barnett if the Bruins do not win the next two games.
With a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the game and the Blues leading, 1-0, St. Louis’s Tyler Bozak wiped out the Bruins’ Noah Acciari, causing Acciari to fall backward, and hard. It was a slew foot, the kind of dirty play that gives a player a reputation, and Bozak knew it. He instinctively began heading toward the penalty box.
Except a whistle never came. Sutherland, a referee, was looking at the play. He had a fine view. But he apparently saw nothing. Play finally stopped a few seconds later when, with Acciari still down, David Perron scored at the 10:36 mark for a 2-0 lead.
The Blues’ first goal came when they had too many men on the ice. The officials didn’t notice. Krug took an obvious cheap elbow to the face earlier in the game. The officials missed it. The Bruins appeared to have a goal trickle past Binnington. The officials said no goal, and replay, unclear as it was, held up the call. And now this? It was unjust.
The Bruins were playing lousy hockey by their standards this postseason, but they didn’t deserve to have to play the officials too.
The Bruins finally perked up after Perron’s score that never should have been, with DeBrusk scoring on a nifty feed from Krug (who appeared to take a stick in the face on the play, because of course) at 13:32. But the Bruins couldn’t get the second goal they needed, that Sutherland all but forced them to need.
You almost wondered whether the officials were secretly hoping the Bruins would tie the game, just to save them some shame for the role they played in putting them in that hole in the first place. You wondered whether we’re going to learn later on that Sutherland has carried a Bernie Federko rookie card in his wallet since he was a wee boy.
The Blues got away with the win, and they got away with more than that. The Cup will be in the building Sunday night in St. Louis as they try to clinch the first championship in franchise history.
The Bruins, a resilient lot even as maddening as they were Thursday, can come back from this. They did in 2011 after falling behind, 3-2, to the Canucks in that series. They trailed the Maple Leafs, 3-2, in the first round of this postseason and prevailed.
It’s obvious what needs to happen for the Bruins to pull this off. Rask needs to dominate, their offensive stars need to actually score, and their overall energy cannot wane.
It would also help significantly if the officials offer at least an occasional reminder that they know how to do their jobs competently. Thursday, they didn’t even seem to know what their job was.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.