The Boston Bruins had the goalie with the best overall performance in the playoffs leading up to the final game of the season. The St. Louis Blues had a goalie who ran hot at times and cold at others.
But with the ultimate hockey prize hanging in the balance, the up and down netminder outplayed his steady as she goes counterpart, and the St. Louis Blues skated away from Boston with a 4-1 win and the franchise's first-ever claim to the greatest trophy in sports.
Hockey fans know when a team's opposing goalie gets peppered early with shot after shot and turns them all away, it's only a matter of time before a single chance at the other end goes in and immediately puts the team that had been carrying the play into the difficult position of chasing the scoreboard and getting away from the fundamentals that helped get them to the precipice of greatness in the first place.
St. Louis' rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington weathered a furious Boston storm in the opening period, and by the end of the game had stopped 32 of the 33 total shots the Bruins threw on goal, many of those in that first period salvo.
The Blues managed just 20 shots on his counterpart Tuukka Rask, but they made the most of them, the first a tipped deflection off the stick of Ryan O'Reilly, who absolutely torched the Bruins in this series and won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the post-season. That's an award that surely would have gone to Rask had the Bruins won last night.
The O'Reilly goal was near the end of the first period but the back breaker was scored with just seven seconds left to go in the frame when the Bruins threw a flurry of pucks at Binnington but failed to finish, and a rush the other way saw defenseman Alex Pietraneglo split the discombobulated Bruins defense and lift a backhander past Rask for a 2-0 lead.
The Bruins were never really in it after that. A scoreless second period yielded to a third in which the Blues made it 3-0 with about 8 minutes left and that was all Craig Berube's team needed to bring Lord Stanley's trophy back to St. Louis for the first time ever, completing a full circle narrative that avenges the moment back in 1970 when Bobby Orr scored the overtime winner against St. Louis to win the Cup for Boston, which until last night, was the last time the Blues had even appeared in the finals.
Give the Blues credit for playing a near perfect road game, eerily reminiscent of the game seven road win the Bruins scored against Vancouver in 2011 to win their first Cup in 39 years. Score early, rely on great goaltending, and play stifling defense the rest of the way.
As a life long Bruins fan, I'm sad my team lost, but I'm mostly feeling sympathy for Tuukka Rask, who was so brilliant for Boston in just getting to them to that game seven. I dearly hope the narrative doesn't revert to an ignorant lament that "Tuukka can't win the big game" or any talk of him choking. The Bruins biggest stars failed to score big goals last night, and yes, part of that was Binnington, but players like Marchand and Bergeron, Krejci and others are expected to produce in the game's most critical moments and they didn't last night.
Whether Rask and the core of players I mentioned, most of them now getting a bit long in the tooth, can return Boston to the finals yet again is anyone's guess. The Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy to win in sports, it follows a too-long regular season, and while getting to within one game of winning the four brutal rounds of playoffs necessary to secure the title is an amazing accomplishment itself worthy of celebration, that's not how the players who watch the other team skate around with the Cup feel. Not by a long shot.
I should mention that Mookie Betts drew a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth to give the Boston Red Sox a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park but while that's nice, I'd have traded that for a Bruins win last night quicker than a Chris Sale fastball reaches home plate.