ST. LOUIS — As the Stanley Cup final moves back to the land of the Gateway Arch for what could be the crowning moment of the the St. Louis Blues' 52-year history on Sunday night, the focus is once again off the players.
No one is waxing poetic nearly enough about Jordan Binnington's 38-save performance in Game 5 in Boston. About three goals in two games for Ryan O'Reilly, assists in three straight games for Zach Sanford or the suffocating St. Louis defense that has forced an APB to be issued for the Bruins' marquee scorers.
Nope. we're talking about Overriding Theme No. 1 of the playoffs — officiating.
The Slew Foot That Wasn't on St. Louis center Tyler Bozak directly led to David Perron's third-period goal that turned out to be the game-winner in the Blues' 2-1 victory at TD Garden.
After the game, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy referred to the missed call by referee Kelly Sutherland as "egregious" and "a black eye" for the NHL. It's been a playoff season full of them.
There was the botched major penalty that turned the tide in Game 7 of the San Jose-Vegas first-round series — and has seemingly left every other official spooked of calling any major penalties. The goal off the mesh against the Bruins during their second-round win over Columbus and the hand-pass overtime goal San Jose burned the Blues on to win Game 3 of the Western Conference final.
"My feelings haven't changed," Cassidy said Friday. "I thought it was a missed call that impacted the game unfortunately in a negative way for us. Other than that, I talked about there's been a few in the postseason. I'm also a fan of the game. For me, it's a privilege and an honor to be working in the National Hockey League, to be in the Finals. We're ambassadors for the game, too. We want to grow the game.
"We're trying to give access. I'm all for that. I'd rather talk about that than missed calls that affect the game. That's the way it was last night. Today is a new day. So we're going to move forward and get ready for Game 6. That's what's in front of us."
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 7, 2019
"You have to move on, put that game behind you. That's history," forward Joakim Nordstrom said Friday. "There's nothing you can do about it now. I think the more time that you waste on it, it's going to punish yourself. You have to put it behind you and move on to the next one."
Blues coach Craig Berube, the beneficiary of a call this time after the disaster against San Jose, was more diplomatic after his team arrived home Friday.
"We're going to focus on playing the game. It goes both ways like I've said," Berube noted. "There's calls either way that could be made, and some are made and some aren't made. That's just the way we look at it."
Other points to ponder as we get through a long weekend of waiting:
Barbashev banned: St. Louis forward Ivan Barbashev got a one-game suspension Friday night for his unpenalized hit to the head of Boston's Marcus Johansson in Game 5. There was no penalty on the play, as the NHL's Department of Player Safety clearly felt compelled to make up for that omission.
"It's physical hockey, it's heavy hockey out there both ways," Berube said before learning Barbashev's fate. "And they're going to look at some stuff once in a while, so that's the way it goes."
Ivan Barbashev wasn't given a penalty for this hit in Game 5 of the #StanleyCup Final, but will have a hearing today with the Department of Player Safety.
Thoughts on what the verdict should be? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/LJR7Wxbb5X
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 7, 2019
Power-play problems: Berube complained after Game 3 about the bulk of penalties being called against his team. The Bruins are now upset at how their power-play opportunities have slipped. After 6 for 14 with the man advantage in the first three games, Boston has gone scoreless on just five attempts in the last two games.
"Just taking away lanes," Berube said of his penalty-killers' efforts. "They really like using seam passes and things like that, and I thought we were tight and doing a good job with our sticks and doing a real good job on our stand-ups at the blue line on their breakouts."
St. Louis, meanwhile, is just 1 for 14 in the series.
Dealing with the hyper-emotional state of their home rink: The Blues laid an egg in Game 3, the first Cup final home appearance since 1970, as Boston took a 2-1 lead in the series with a 7-2 romp. One can only imagine the frenzy that will envelop Enterprise Center Sunday night with the Cup in the building available to be won and St. Louis is going to have to keep its emotions in check.
"We already talked about it, and we'll talk again tomorrow about it," Berube said. "I think our guys, they went through it already once, and I think they'll be more prepared this time."
"I'm not going to change my routine," said captain Alex Pietrangelo. "We've all played in big games at some point in our career, whether it's the Olympics, World Cup or junior or whatever it is. All of us, we've played Game 7 against Dallas, Game 6s and we've had some experience in these playoffs. I know it's not this stage, but it's a pretty level-headed group we've got."
The Toronto Factor: Boston is in the same spot it was in during the first round with Toronto in heading on the road trailing the series, 3-2. The Bruins responded by winning Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena, 4-2, and blew out the Leafs in Game 7 back home, 5-1.
"They certainly know we're capable of it. That's part of it," Cassidy said. "There's some motivation that goes into it. I think at this point in the year, they know what's at stake. It's a little bit about getting their minds in the right place. Every player is probably a little bit frustrated for different reasons, so let's get them out of their own way, so to speak, and just breathe and play."
Conn Smythe candidates: It's pretty clear that goaltender Tuukka Rask is the leading candidate to win the playoff MVP award if the Bruins rally to win the Cup. Brad Marchand leads playoff scorers with 21 points but has no goals in this series.
If the Blues win, goalie Jordan Binnington probably pushed himself back to the top of the list with Thursday's 38-save performance but center Ryan O'Reilly is now one point off the playoff scoring lead with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) and the former Sabre has to rate as a prime candidate as well.