BOSTON - Despite receiving an early boost from the return of Zdeno Chara and the energy of the TD Garden crowd, the Bruins dropped Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, 2-1, to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.
Boston now trails the best-of-seven series, 3-2, with things shifting back to St. Louis for Game 6 on Sunday night. It is the same position the Bruins faced in the first round against Toronto.
"We've done it before, for sure," said Torey Krug. "There's a lot of different ways we've won series, won hockey games, and it's just another test for this group. We haven't done anything easy this year. We've put ourselves against the wall a lot this season, so it'll be another test. I think we will be ready to go."
The third period was marred by an egregious missed call by referees Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari. With Boston trailing, 1-0, and searching for the equalizer, Noel Acciari was taken out from behind by St. Louis forward Tyler Bozak deep in the Bruins' zone.
Bozak took Acciari's legs out with a slew foot, causing the winger to crash to the ice and whack his helmet. With Acciari still down, the puck bounced around the Bruins end, before David Perron banked it off of Krug and by Tuukka Rask to give St. Louis a 2-0 lead with 9:24 to go.
"It's a missed call," said Acciari, who noted that he was doing fine after being checked by the concussion spotter following the play. "It's the biggest stage of hockey right now. I don't know what else I can say about it."
Video: Acciari, Carlo, Krug and DeBrusk react to loss
Coach Bruce Cassidy had plenty to say about it, as well as two checks to the head that went uncalled earlier in the game - one on Marcus Johansson by Ivan Barbashev in the first period and another on Torey Krug by Zach Sanford in the second.
"Well those are the hits they want to get out of the game, correct?" said Cassidy. "Those are the hits that I hear a lot about. Clearly, they missed a couple tonight. It's a fast game. I sat here two days ago or whatever it was and said I believe these officials are at this level because they earned the right to be here and you should be getting the best. The narrative changed after Game 3. There was a complaint or whatever put forth by the opposition and it just seemed to change everything.
"The non-call on Acciari - their player is on his way to the box, it's right in front of the official, it's a slew foot. Our guy is gone. The spotter took him out of the game for a possible concussion. I mean it's blatant and a big effect on the game…I'm a fan of the game. This is the National Hockey League and they're getting a black eye with their officiating in the playoffs, and here's another one that is going to be talked about. I thought it was a great hockey game.
"That call probably - and there's time [left] - but it really made it difficult for us to get the win tonight. So I'm disappointed. So I guess to answer your original question, it was egregious. But we're moving on and getting ready for Game 6."
Video: Bruce Cassidy comments on officiating in Game 5
In the end, the game was probably lost for the Bruins in the first period. With the adrenaline rush of Chara's presence still fresh, Boston came out strong in the opening 20 minutes, outshooting St. Louis, 17-8. But they failed to capitalize on those opportunities, and just 55 seconds into the second, Ryan O'Reilly struck for the opening goal.
"Frustrated for sure," said Krug. "I thought we had a great first period. We have to find a way to get one in the first, so they aren't feeling good about weathering the storm and coming out in the second and getting one early on the first shift. We have to do better job of being ready in that second period. Ultimately, that's what hurt us."
Jake DeBrusk cut the deficit in half with 6:28 remaining on a delayed penalty, giving the Bruins a sliver of hope. Boston continued to push following the winger's tally and had some close calls over the final minutes - most notably John Moore's slapper that trickled through Jordan Binnington before being swept out of the crease - but could not find the equalizer.
"It was a good effort," said Patrice Bergeron. "I thought we had a lot of looks. We played well to the end, but we need some results at this time, doesn't matter how it happens…it is frustrating. Especially with what's at stake. Bottom line, you have to be ready for Game 6. That's all we can focus on."
Video: Patrice Bergeron talks disappointment of Game 5
Chara Battles Through
The Bruins were, no doubt, buoyed by Chara, who suffered a serious facial injury in Game 4 when he was struck with a deflected puck. Boston's captain took part in morning skate wearing a face shield on his helmet and was ultimately cleared to play after being termed a game-time decision.
"He was medically cleared with some warnings and he made the decision to play," said Cassidy. "Inspirational for us, good player for us. We knew he wouldn't be 10 percent so we were happy to have him out there. But it just speaks a lot to his character and his will to play."
Chara was in the starting lineup, and upon being announced by TD Garden PA announcer Jim Martin, the 42-year-old was given a raucous ovation by the Black & Gold faithful that rivals any the building has ever produced.
"I think it's pretty special, even the crowd at the start of the game, how loud it got in here," said Jake DeBrusk. "And obviously he's [Zdeno Chara] playing through something pretty major, so you know to put in a gutsy effort like that it's a morale boost, but at the same we didn't win so it's one of those things you wanna do it for a guy but saying that they got the result."
Video: STL@BOS, Gm5: Fans give Chara rousing ovation
Chara landed four hits and two shots on goal in 16:42 of ice time. With Chara's minutes limited, Cassidy opted to go with seven defensemen as insurance in case of any setbacks, as Steven Kampfer was inserted into the lineup with David Backes a healthy scratch up front.
"Listen, the reason we did that is that we weren't sure on Zee," said Cassidy. "How much was he going to be able to play? How was the injury going to affect his breathing? So we covered ourselves. I'm not going to get into every detail about our injuries but we felt that seven was the best way to go to make sure that we were covered in case one of our defenseman wasn't able to continue throughout the game."
Matt Grzelcyk was also termed a game-time decision after morning skate, but did not play. The blue liner missed his third straight game after taking a hit to the head from Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2.