When Alex Pietrangelo lifted a backhander over Tuukka Rask to give the St. Louis Blues a two-goal lead late in the first period, Boston fans went silent and the eerie quiet lasted throughout intermission.
With good reason. The Blues hadn’t lost a single playoff game when up by at least two goals.
The Bruins found out what San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets learned the hard way: Don’t let the St. Louis Blues take a lead.
Craig Berube’s team showed all playoffs it could lock down a hockey game better than anyone else in the NHL. Their style of game translates perfectly to playing with a lead, a recipe that helped them finish off Boston 4-1 Wednesday night in Game 7 to lift the Stanley Cup.
“We did a real good job in the middle of the ice tonight, especially in our own end — good sticks, clogging it up, blocking shots,” Berube said. “I thought our guys, they did a real good job in the middle of the ice, clogging it up, not giving them anything free there.”
After the regular season saw an NHL-record 138 multi-goal comebacks, the Blues went 4-0 in the Cup final when taking a lead of any kind on the Bruins and were undefeated whenever they had a two-goal or more advantage this postseason.
So much of that can be traced back to Berube’s changes when he took over as interim coach for Mike Yeo in November. He instituted a north-south brand of hockey that better suited the roster general manager Doug Armstrong put together. Asked after Game 7 on the ice what Berube’s hiring meant to St. Louis, Armstrong didn’t hesitate.
“Everything,” he said simply. “He came in. one of the things he did right away was he took down the standings. … He said, let’s just go to work every day.”
“He doesn’t get too high, too low … I learned a lot working with him and I look forward to working with him for a long time to come,” added Armstrong, who then laughed when Berube’s interim title was mentioned. “We’re going to work that out.”
St. Louis showed it could put a stranglehold on opponents when playing with a lead. They finished the playoffs 13-4 when scoring first, 8-2 when leading after one period and 10-1 when leading after two.
Even Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy conceded that the Blues “play a different game” when they’re ahead. Much of that is the structure that helped St. Louis go from last in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3 to the playoffs.