BOSTON (AP) — There was blood in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. And a possible head injury. And plenty of fresh bumps and bruises.
The best-of-seven series between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues has turned decidedly nasty, and it only took two games. If that.
Connor Clifton bloodied the Blues’ Tyler Bozak with a high stick, Oskar Sundqvist knocked the Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk out of the game by ramming him into the glass and Robert Bortuzzo slashed Boston’s Jake DeBrusk between padding on his left arm before a faceoff, leaving him doubled over in pain. Former Blues captain David Backes crushed Sammy Blais with an open-ice hit just two nights after helmetless Torey Krug skated down the ice and leveled the Blues’ Robert Thomas with a body check. Thomas hasn’t played since.
The NHL has consistently emphasized skill and speed of late but sometimes you can steamroll your way to a playoff victory, which the Blues did 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night to tie the series at a game apiece. The league still sells hatred, and it didn’t take long for that to build up between these heavy-hitting teams.
“They’re aggressive, they’re big, they hit well and we’re a big team and we hit, so there’s going to be a lot of chirping, a lot of hitting going, a lot of scrums,” St. Louis forward Patrick Maroon said.
At the moment, it is advantage St. Louis. The Blues outhustled the Bruins and delivered more blows in grabbing home-ice advantage with Game 3 coming up Saturday night in St. Louis.
“I think we’ve been doing that all playoffs, no? It’s just our style,” Sundqvist said. “That’s how we play and when we do it, we’re good, we’re winning pucks back and we’re creating offense. That’s part of our game.”
Knowing that, Backes said the Bruins want to “match physicality, stare them in the eyes and go right through it when they’re trying to amp that up and have an answer at times when we have the opportunity to be physical on their guys.”
St. Louis was credited with 49 hits in a game filled with aches and pains. Sundqvist’s hit on Grzelcyk drew a boarding penalty and the Boston defenseman needed help to get off the ice. Blais and Jaden Schwartz also each ran into goaltender Tuukka Rask and both were whistled for interference.
“We can’t let them push us around,” Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo said. “We can’t retaliate after the whistle. They were right on top of us. We kind of felt like whenever we turned around to move up the ice, they were right there, doing a good job with their sticks and playing a little bit more physical than we were.”
The Bruins weren’t shrinking violets, though. Featuring a blue line with four players 6 feet tall or shorter, Charlie McAvoy was throwing the body like someone not afraid to hit above his weight class.
The hits continued to take their toll. The Blues were already without Thomas and defenseman Vince Dunn, and top-line winger Vladimir Tarasenko missed a big chunk of the second period. Bozak went down the tunnel to close the stick-induced cut on his face but returned not long after.
Bozak was no worse for the wear. Just part of the cost of doing business.
The same couldn’t be said for Grzelcyk, who went to a hospital for tests. Boston, down to five defenseman, appeared to tire late.
“It’s a long series,” Blues defenseman Colton Paryko said. “Obviously they went down a D-man and when you have five D-men and you continue to press and press and press, it’s hard for the D-men. I thought we did a good job of continuing to do that.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks sped their way to the Stanley Cup in recent years. The Blues are looking to follow in the heavy tracks of the champion Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals, who pounded their opponents on the way to the title.
After earning the first playoff victory in franchise history by turning the Bruins black and blue, the Blues found a recipe that could lead to the first championship.
“We’ve just got to continue hitting,” Maroon said. “That’s our team.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno