The Boston Bruins withstood big, early hits by the Blues. (Photo credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
There was a 6-foot-9 void on the Boston Bruins blue Thursday night, and the St. Louis Blues took advantage it. That void is of course left by Zdeno Chara, arguably the Bruins most important player, who will be missing the last two games before the Olympic break to carry his native Slovakia’s flag during the Olympic opening ceremony. It did not take long for Chara’s absence to be exploited as the Blues rugged forwards came out and used their physical forecheck against the Bruins undersized defensemen.
With Chara out, Johnny Boychuck suddenly became the Bruins most veteran defenseman with 298 NHL games played. The other five Boston defensemen had a total of 230 career NHL games played. That inexperience on the back end cost the Bruins and they found themselves down 2-0 early in the second period.
On St. Louis’s first goal scored by Alexander Steen, Matt Bartkowski gave the prolific goal scorer too much room on the outside and Steen ripped a slapshot past Tuukka Rask. Although Bartkowski was playing the Bruins style of defense by protecting against the centering pass and giving up the perimeter, he gave too much room to a player with the goal scoring ability of Steen. It was a similar play by Kevan Miller in the second period that led to another goal by St. Louis, putting them up by two.
It is impossible to know whether or not the inexperienced mistakes by two young Bruins defensemen could have been avoided if Chara had been playing. However, with Chara out of the lineup, coach Claude Julien had to give his young defensemen more ice time than usual.
Down 2-0 against one of the best teams in the NHL, missing their captain and with only two games left before a two-week break most teams would have rolled over. This Bruins team however showed their championship pedigree and battled back.
The Bruins finally breakthrough for their first goal midway through the third period. (Photo credit: Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)
After getting the better of the play to close the second period, they came out in the third and continued to pressure St. Louis. That pressure finally paid off nearly halfway through the third when David Krejci scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with Milan Lucic screening Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Once Boston got their first goal, it seemed inevitable a second one was coming and it did not take long for it to happen. Just over two minutes after the Krejci goal, a deflected slapshot by Boychuck rebounded off the end board to the side of the net where Brad Marchand was there to put the puck in the back of the net and tie the game at two.
The Bruins resiliency earned them a point and sent the game into overtime. In Boston’s previous overtime games this season coach Julien has been aggressive, sending out three forwards and only one defenseman, trying to avoid the shootout. His strategy worked, but not in his teams favor.
With less than two minutes left in the overtime period, Carl Soderberg tried passing the puck behind his own goal, but his pass was blocked by T.J. Oshie and the puck trickled off the side of the net to the right post. Oshie quickly skated to the puck and jammed it past Rask for the winning goal.
It was a tough loss for Boston because of the way they battled back from an early deficit and really got the better of the play in the final 40 minutes and in overtime. In fact, they were inches away from ending the game moments before the Oshie goal when Jarome Iginla had an open net, but the Blues Alex Pietrangelo was able to get his stick in front of the shot and save the game for St. Louis.
Despite the disappointing loss the Bruins showed they are capable of playing at an extremely high level even with the void left in Chara’s absence. Coming back after being down 2-0 on the road in a hostile environment confirmed what we already know about this Boston team; there is no quit in them.