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COMMENTARY

Blues overcome Chara's historic grit to pull within one win of first Cup

BOSTON – Too much Jordan Binnington. Too much Ryan O'Reilly. And a huge assist from the striped shirts.

On a night when Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara showed historic grit by playing through a broken jaw, the St. Louis Blues made some history of their own by pulling with one win of their first Stanley Cup.

It was a wild night at TD Garden as the Blues held on for a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Cup final to take a 3-2 lead in the series. A franchise born in 1967 that had never won a game in hockey's ultimate round can wrap up its first title Sunday night in Enterprise Center.

Binnington made 38 saves – the most by a rookie in Cup final history. O'Reilly had a goal and an assist, and David Perron scored a controversial third-period goal after a Tyler Bozak trip on Noel Acciari wasn't called, allowing the Blues to keep the puck in the Boston zone.

The Blues spoiled what could have been a signature night for the 6-foot-9 Chara, who played roughly 72 hours after suffering a broken jaw. Yes, a broken jaw. On Wednesday, remember, his Bruins teammates said they had not seen or heard from him since they returned from St. Louis Tuesday morning. Coach Bruce Cassidy said he only had a quick text exchange with his captain.

But there was Chara on the ice for Thursday's optional morning skate wearing a full face shield. And there he was in the starting lineup for his team's biggest game of the season. It was unbelievable.

“Much is made of his professionalism, his toughness, his approach," said Boston defenseman John Moore. "But until you see that in the flesh, you have a whole other level of appreciation for it. The guy’s 42. When I’m 42, I’m certainly not going to be the first guy in the gym, weighing all my food, squatting the most on the team.

"Those are all the things you respect. You throw in the fact that what he’s going through — that’s something I’ll tell my kids about. Life lessons I’ll carry long beyond hockey.”

A broken jaw would normally leave a player out for several weeks, especially if it required surgery. The severity of Chara's injury is unknown but he is unable to speak. He gave written responses to two questions to a Bruins PR official that were distributed by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

"At this time of the playoffs, everyone has injuries and there are challenges that you have to overcome to play," Chara said when asked about the difficulty of playing through. "I’m no different than any player on either team.”

On the risks involved, Chara said: "You don’t think about that. You think about playing. You don’t go into a game thinking you might get hurt.”

The TD Garden sound system was playing the 80s tune "The Warrior" just before warmups in a clear homage to Chara. He took the ice for warmup first in line among the skaters behind goalie Tuukka Rask. He left about six minutes early. Nothing crazy. He often does that.

When he was announced prior to the game in the starting lineup, the roar was deafening.

Chara finished at 16:42 of ice time, had four hits and blocked three shots. Game 5 looked like it was going to be a defensive disaster for Boston with both Chara and Matt Grzelcyk (concussion) out of the lineup. Grzelcyk did, in fact, sit out for the third straight game.

But Chara and defense partner Charlie McAvoy were both caught behind the net as Zach Sanford fed O'Reilly for a backhand 55 seconds into the second period that opened the scoring.

It was O'Reilly's third goal in two games and the third straight game that Sanford notched an assist.

"He looks energized to me a little bit more, has more jump in his stride," said St. Louis coach Craig Berube. "And he's finishing now."

"Early in the year we had a lot of success together and showed great chemistry," O'Reilly said of linemates Sanford and Perron. "These guys are making great plays. I'm coming late but these guys are working to protect the puck. "

Perron made it 2-0 at 10:36 of the third, taking an O'Reilly pass a few seconds after Bozak appeared to slew foot Acciari in the Boston zone.

"Their player is on his way to the box. It’s right in front of the official," said Cassidy. "It’s a slew foot. Our guy’s gone. The spotter took him out of the game for a possible concussion. I mean, it’s blatant. It had a big effect on the game. This has happened. I’m a fan of the game. It’s the National Hockey League’s getting a black-eye with their officiating in these playoffs."

The Bruins got a goal back from Jake DeBrusk with 6:28 left but Binnington held the fort the rest of the way.

"I felt good tonight and the boys battled hard," said Binnington. "It was a big win and hope we can carry that momentum into the next game."

The next one will be a game unlike any St. Louis has played in its history.

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