High school seniors are graduating. The sweet smell of grilled meats permeate the air most evenings. The lines to get into the likes of Good Harbor, West and Saisbury Beaches grows by the day.
Summer is but a few weeks away. Easter Sunday feels like a long time ago.
Only it wasn’t.
If you’ll recall, the Boston Bruins travelled to Toronto on the holiday trailing the host Maple Leafs, 3 games to 2, in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Their season hinged on how they performed that Sunday afternoon in Canda’s self-proclaimed hub of hockey: win and extend the series to a Game 7 back on home ice; lose and hit the links disappointingly early.
On that day, April 21, the contest began auspiciously when Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly scored midway through the first period to give the Buds a 1-0 lead. The Bruins dominated the rest of the way, getting the tying goal on the power play from Brad Marchand less than two minutes later before another man up strike from Torey Krug before the period ended gave them a lead they’d never relinquish. A second period tally from Jake DeBrusk, an empty netter from Marchand and 22 saves from Tuukka Rask took Boston’s season off life support thanks to their 4-1 victory.
Two nights later, they finished off the Maple Leafs in Game 7 for a second straight season, humbling their Atlantic Division rivals in a 5-1 triumph.
Exactly seven weeks and give or take five hours later, the Bruins will find themselves in that same 3-2 deficit-trailing scenario. Once again, a win allows them to play one more time, back on home ice, in Game 7. A loss puts an end to their 2018-19 campaign.
But the St. Louis Blues, who will be looking to capture the Stanley Cup for the first time in their 52-year history Sunday night at the Enterprise Center, are not the Toronto Maple Leafs. Five intense battles between the Bruins and Blues have clearly shown us that.
For all the offensive skill and speed Toronto possessed, they had defensive holes, were soft mentally and had a penchant for taking bad penalties and inopportune times. The Bruins pounced on all three of those foibles in cpaturing Games 6 and 7.
St. Louis doesn’t have nearly the same set of offensive tools. But what they do have is a vice grip of a defensive unit, a catcus-like mentality of lash out first before you get lashed at, and have somehow stopped being called for the bad penalties they should be taking following head coach Craig Berube’s public whining on the topic between Games 3 and 4 back in Missouri.
Boston, which seemed ready to take control of the series after blasting the Blues, 7-2, just a week ago in Game 3, is now on the ropes, desperate to extend the series and the chance to deliver a winner-take-all knockout punch.
To do that, though, they have to find a way to win Sunday night. How that might possibly transpire is anyone’s guess.
Will captain Zdeno Chara, who in returning to the ice three days after suffering a broken jaw played nearly 17 minutes of inspirational but not always totally effective hockey, be back in the lineup? You’d have to think so; Chara dished out four hits and blocked three shots in Game 5, but was in obvious pain and on the ice for some of the Blues’ better scoring chances, including Ryan O’Reilly’s second period score.
Does fellow blue liner Matt Grzelcyk pass the concussion test and be deemed healthy enough to play? The Bruins, who desperately need his puck moving skills out of the defensive zone, are praying he can. If he can play, who sits? Do they still use 11 forwards and 7 defensemen in an effort to protect Chara and/or limit his ice time, or go back to the traditional 12 forwards and six rearguards? Is David Backes, still effective as an up-front thumper when used properly, put back in the lineup in his former stomping grounds?
Will the first line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak ever score a 5-on-5 goal in this series? Is David Krejci going to make a difference at all before the series ends? Is Noel Acciari, who was checked for a possible concussion after being slew-footed by the Blues’ Tyler Bozak (no penalty called, and the sequence led to the game-winning goal Thursday night) be ready to go at full speed Sunday?
Will the referees finally wise up to St. Louis’ nefarious ways away from the play (trips, holds, elbows, you name it) and be more cogizant of such infractions after Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy bluntly called them out following Game 5’s many missed calls? Can Rask continue to carry the team on his shoulders while they desperately try to work out of their offensive funk? Can the Black-and-Gold solve Blues rookie tender Jordan Binnington, be it at even strength or on the power play, the way they did in Games 1 and 3?
This plethora of questions should all be answered sometime around 11 p.m. Sunday night, when the Bruins will either be joyfully be heading home and preparing for the five most magical words in sports — Stanley Cup Final Game 7 — or left to wonder where it all went wrong.
The bet here is the former.
Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and folllow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN