After spending the better part of the month of May in a strange and frightening hibernation chrysalis, the NHL Department of Player Safety has emerged from its primordial ooze larger and stronger, more beautiful and terrible than any imagined, handing St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist a crippling one-game suspension for the reckless boarding of Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. Lo, justice has been served, and woe be to those who doubt the DoPS’ gnashing teeth and razor sharp claws in the future, for retribution has come for the wicked and ... oh, who am I kidding.
While any decision on the part of Player Safety will be disagreeable to someone, I did rail against the league and its affiliate entities at some length in our last Power Rankings about this, asking them to at least do something. Well, this is something. For San Jose Sharks fans, who just watched their team get run out of the building and into the hospital by these very same Blues not two weeks ago, it reeks of maybe too little, and definitely too late, but it is at least a little reassuring to see a sign of life from the department, and to see them make an effort to pretend to be seen as caring about their namesake.
On the ice, the Bruins will likely continue to be short a defender tonight, an issue that played no small part in their loss to the Blues in Game 2, and the Blues will be without a bottom-six player who was one of their more dangerous assets in their Western Conference Final series with the Sharks. Still, after the mid-season revelation that Joakim Ryan was a ghost the whole time, the Sharks played three full rounds with only five defensemen, and did pretty well, until ... well, you know.
What’s on tap
Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)
5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
After the Bruins dominated Game 1, this whole thing looked like a foregone conclusion. As they do, however, the Blues struck back in Game 2, taking progressively more control of the game as it wore on. After a thrilling four-goal first period, both teams and goaltenders shut all of our fun right down, taking the rest of the prescribed time and then some to skate about until Carl Gunnarsson put the Bruins to bed with a 6-on-5 rocket in overtime. In a trend that should worry Boston, St. Louis got better as the game went on, posting an adjusted 5-on-5 shot attempt share of an even 48.7 percent in the first period, improving to 56.05 percent in the second, a dominant 63.49 percent in the third, and a very good 100 percent in overtime. If that trend continues, St. Louis will play with two pucks tonight, and dominate possession of both of them.
The Bruins will need to get back to the speed and skill they displayed in Game 1, and away from the extracurricular activity into which the Blues are all too happy to pull them. Short one of their more reliable defenders, the Bruins will have to allocate Grzelcyk’s minutes around their blue line, which probably means more minutes for 42-year-old Zdeno Chara. That’s bad.
Joakim Nordstrom: Factoring in on both of his team’s goals in Game 2, the Bruins fourth line, composed of former Sharks prospect Sean Kuraly centering Nordstrom and Noel Acciari, is leading the Boston charge in the series so far. Responsible for two of Boston’s three even strength goals through the series’ first two games, Boston’s depth is stepping up to try to pick up the slack left by their stars, who have been mysteriously silent at best (hello, Patrice Bergeron), and prone to costly errors at worse (hello, Brad Marchand).
Carl Gunnarsson: Ascribing a bunch of feel good narrative to a player asking his coach for “one more chance” and then capitalizing on that chance in overtime when that player would definitely have received normal shifts anyway is a little silly, but since he did it as they were standing side by side at the urinal, it’s too much fun not to believe. Gunnarsson, owner of 28 goals over the course of a 10-year career in the NHL, ended Game 2 with a lethal blast past a screened Tuukka Rask just 3:51 into overtime after bouncing a puck off of the crossbar late in regulation.
The Bruins top line. Seriously, these guys have to figure this out at some point, right? Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak have been held to just one goal through two games against the Blues, and just one at 5-on-5 since Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a game in which they had three. If the Blues can clean up their game and stay out of the box (or, as has been their strategy in previous rounds, continue to play the same game and hope that officials just get tired of calling penalties), Boston’s top trio is going to have to figure out how to produce at evens, or this series will be over faster then they’d like.
What are your eyes on?