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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).

The roar of airplane engines overhead could be heard as Craig Berube spoke to a huddle of media members on Monday afternoon in the lobby of the charter service used by the Blues.

The Bruins had departed from that same tarmac outside hours earlier. An arrival was incoming to load up the Blues. Berube’s players were lining up out front, wearing suits with backpacks slung over their shoulders.

This would be a trip as short as it is important.

The Blues can return home changed men. Champions. Curse breakers. Legends.

But in order to do this, they must not change.

Playing the brand of hockey that led the Blues here, to heights none of their predecessors in St. Louis have touched, is the only way they will stick the landing in Wednesday’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It was during the late November press conference that named Berube as interim coach that president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong challenged his team to rediscover the blue-collar approach that appealed to a hard-working fan base. Mission accomplished. The Blues became a hard-hitting, grinding team that rallied around the one word – relentless – former NHL tough guy Berube repeated practice after practice, pregame after pregame as the Blues climbed from the bottom of the league standings to tied 3-3 entering the game they dreamed about as kids.

We have talked a lot about the Blues’ record on the road (good) and their record coming off losses (also good) but those numbers are byproducts of a brand.

“We have to play our game,” Berube said Monday. “We are an aggressive, physical hockey team. Get on the forecheck. That’s the way we play. That’s the way we have to play Game 7.”

In this quote, and others like it, Berube was challenging his players once again. He’s told them the same thing, though that version might have been peppered with a little more profanity. The coach thinks the Blues got away from their winning recipe a bit in Sunday’s 5-1 loss.

For the first time in this bruising series, the Blues on Sunday totaled fewer than 30 hits. Their 29 was nearly matched by the Bruins’ 27. This from a team that had averaged 39 hits through the previous five games.

There are other ways to measure relentlessness.

While Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was splendid Sunday, as is his tendency in elimination games, the Blues did not make his job hard enough. Forget beating Rask with beauty. The Blues must beat him with want-to, grease and all of those other terms that are corny, yet true. Beat him before he has a chance. Beat him after he stops the first chance. The Blues know flooding the net with pucks, capitalizing on rebounds and firing it fast in the first place are the best bets to beat Rask. He’s too good when he has a clear line of vision. He’s too good when he’s not scrambling, and he was not scrambling often enough in Game 6, especially not on the Blues’ plodding, predictable power play.

Both coaches in this series have worked hard to influence the officiating. It’s been gamesmanship on a grand stage. Berube’s gruff rebuke of the lopsided penalties early in the series seemed to tip the scale toward the Blues a bit. Boston’s Bruce Cassidy’s rant after the stripes missed Tyler Bozak’s trip of Noel Acciari in Game 5 seemed to move the needle back toward Boston’s way. Credit Cassidy for his acting chops. It must be tough to prod the officials for more penalties while also celebrating the influence of leg-sweeping, knee- targeting Brad Marchand.

At least Berube is consistent. He campaigns for fewer penalties, not fewer for his team and more for the other. Newsflash: Both teams have taken cheap shots. David Perron has picked on Rask. Marchand has picked on Binnington. Zdeno Chara punched Zach Sanford in the face. Sanford punched him back, right in his injured jaw. Robert Bortuzzo popped, then winked, at Acciari. David Pastrnak intentionally tripped Alexander Steen. The examples are endless. The officials must be exhausted. In Game 7, tradition says let them play.

Whether it was the one-game suspensions of Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist, or the realization that the league is apparently only able to review hits delivered by the Blues, something changed in the Blues on Sunday. They didn’t finish their checks like they have in previous games. They let the Bruins out of the box instead of boxing them in and bruising them. More of that will lead to the latest Boston championship. It’s that simple.

The heat-seeking Barbashev is back for Game 7. His 27 hits are the second-most of any Bruins and Blues player in this series despite the fact he missed Game 6. The Blues are 3-1 in this round when he and the rugged Sundqvist both play. That’s a nice duo to have reunited when the Blues are trying to discover the game that made the biggest game of their life possible.

No pressure?

No, pressure.


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