ST. LOUIS – The Bruins recognized that things were a little different in Game 4. After a competitive first three games where penalties were called a certain way and the Blues deservedly had their share of infractions given just how physically they were playing, the officials simply stopped calling anything a penalty that wasn't forced on them.
St. Louis threw 40-plus hits in their 4-2 win at the Enterprise Center and the only penalties called against them were a delay of game on a puck over the glass and a high-sticking call when a stick caught Charlie Coyle up high. They were automatic calls that needed to be made, but other than that it was a "let the boys play" kind of night. That's certainly okay if it's called the same both ways in any given Stanley Cup Final game, and the Bruins should have to prove they can beat the Blues in 5-on-5 play if they want to be champs.
Still, it was striking to the Bruins how differently the game was called as compared to the rest of the series when the B's had 14 power-play chances in the first three games.
"I don't know. There was this comment to the refs about them being this angelic team about not taking penalties all playoffs, and then all of a sudden the whistles are put away," said David Backes. "We'll keep playing through the stuff. They're doing it and we need to find the goals any way that we know how too. I felt like there were less calls. No question. I think that the statistics are going to show there were less power plays on each side.
"It's kind of more of what you'd be expecting going into the final, but that's not the way the whole playoffs were for us. I don't know why that would change now. We'll see. We just need to keep playing our game for 60 minutes and let the chips fall where they may."
The timing was also striking as Blues coach Craig Berube had complained through the media about the number of penalty calls against St. Louis after they were the least penalized team in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy hoped that Berube's not-so-subtle public comments didn't have anything to do with the refs opting to swallow their whistles in an ultra-physical Game 4 where Alex Pietrangelo choke-slammed David Backes to the ice at one point without a batting of the eyelash from the zebras.
"You've got the best refs [in the Stanley Cup Final], they go through the process like teams do, right? They get evaluated and they're here because they've been the best throughout, so I would expect that they wouldn't get baited into somebody's comments," said Cassidy. "They should be better than that, if they did. I certainly didn't expect them to, they should have a degree of professionalism, call the calls they see. That's why the night before, I found it odd, we killed five power plays, we scored on our four, one was in the last minute so it's inconsequential. One was on them that they got called for, it wasn't an infraction, they got called for a bench minor for a challenge of an offside. So, really there's a couple that they can look at that affected the game, I think one in the first period, one in the second. I think it was a bit of a ruse. Hopefully, they didn't get caught up into it.
"Going into last night, I think the call on [Connor] Clifton was a head-scratcher. [Vladimir] Tarasenko went to reverse hit him and I don't think there was any contact to the head at all other than his own head maybe, him leading with it. I don't know where that call came from. That's the only one I was unhappy with. There's also some that go either way that they could call. It's hard to nitpick through every [penalty]. So that's my thought on that. At the end of the day, we didn't play well enough to win, we know that. We killed the penalties that we were called on and scored a shorthanded goal."
Clearly, Berube critiqued the officiating with the hope that the series would become less of a special-teams contest and that would favor the Blues looking to play at even strength. The strategy worked in St. Louis' Game 4 win and has left the Bruins to wonder how things are going to be called in a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday night in Boston when both teams are going to be at their highest battle level in the series.
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