BOSTON • Bobby Plager was here to see it, but he didn’t see it.
The old Blue famously doesn’t watch the game, nerves and all, and instead just paces, listening for clues. And on the ninth level of TD Garden, where you’re eye level with the 1970 Stanley Cup Champions banner, the original Blue suddenly heard a cheer. He knew right then, because it was loud – but not that loud.
So Plager, 76, promptly looked up at a nearby TV, and “because of the 10-second delay, it was like watching it live.”
Carl Gunnarsson, of all Blues, scored his first playoff goal to win Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. In overtime. In Boston.
The unbelievable makes the unbelievable believable – the Blues are back in this thing, the series tied 1-1.
There was a time that one wondered if Plager lived forever, would he even then see the Blues win a game in the Stanley Cup Final? The Blues were 0-for-12, the last loss to the soaring Bobby Orr in 1970. And then, the Blues blew Game 1 in this series, 0-for-13. But on Wednesday night, for the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues won a game in the Stanley Cup Final.
“That’s pretty cool if you think about it that way,” Gunnarsson said. “Pretty sure we’re not going to stop here.”
The Blues won this by being the Blues. Or, by being the Bruins from Game 1. The Blues dominated all night with a relentless forecheck and a dedication to team. Sure, Robert Thomas was out with an injury. Sure, the Bruins scored the first goal of the game. Sure, the Blues again made five penalties. But they won as a team – as absolutely cheesy as that sounds, it was Wednesday’s reality. And how better to describe it than having the goal scorers be superstar Vladimir Tarasenko … and third-line defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and the hero Carl “Boom Boom” or "Gunny" Gunnarsson?
To Plager, who has been part of the organization since the Blues started plucking players, there is something noble about the sacrifice of a defenseman. That’s the way he played, heart thumping with blue blood, drawing a bunch of red blood from Red Wings or Blackhawks.
And asked about the commitment to team that he sees in Gunnarsson, Plager said: “He’s a player you don’t hear much of – but you know, he’s very dependable. You can play him with any player. He’s a defensive, stay-at-home guy – doesn’t hurt you. And he’ll help out the other guys, he’ll play defense and let them go. And tonight, he was rewarded for what he does.”
A win in the Stanley Cup Final is, in any capacity, big. It extends your season. Gets you closer to the Cup (or wins it for you). But to win on an overtime goal on the road? This is next-level, a win of an epic proportion. A bone-chiller turned into a soul-crusher for the loser. And the loser, for a night, was Boston. The Blues travel back to St. Louis with home-ice advantage in what now is a best-of-five series. And in their smelly hockey bags and suave designer suitcases is a whole bunch of confidence.
And now, Gunnarsson is a hero – at least for the next two weeks. And, possibly, forever. If the Blues win the Cup, it’ll be in the same conversation as Patrick Maroon scoring the double-overtime winner in Game 7 of the second round. Legends from Oakville and Örebro, Sweden.
“The city is going nuts right now,” Maroon said while here in Boston, a city that so often beats up on his hometown. “They’ve been waiting for so many years. They’ve had our backs. Hockey is really ramping up in St. Louis, and there’s nothing more that St. Louis would want. The fans deserve it. ...
“It’s been a really fun journey for me to be a part of this, to put that sweater on every night. As a kid you dream of this your whole life. To come back home and play for the team you grew up watching – and actually live out your dream? – it’s a pretty cool moment for me. And not only for me, but for my dad – who’s been a season-ticket holder – and my mom, my family, my son. It’s been very special. A lot of highs, a lot of lows, and we’re getting through this together.”
The playoffs are a weird world. You prepare and plan and practice so you can conquer the other team strategically. And then, Robert Bortuzzo whips home a shot from a long-percentage angle toward the net and it bounces off a Boston stick and in. A goal that could change the trajectory of the game. The series. And such was the case in Game 2.
And then, if the Bortuzzo goal wasn’t improbable enough … "Boom Boom?"
You could just feel it coming, couldn’t you? The Blues absolutely dominated the overtime, shot after shot, keeping the puck in the Boston zone and making the Bruins weary. Boston even committed a penalty, but nobody ended up going to the box. With the poise of veterans, the Blues kept possession and Gunnarsson, of all players, unleashed a one-timer just inside the blueline for the glorious goal.
“This is so big – what’s going on for the last month,” Plager said. “We’ve been underdogs in every series, winning on the road, winning in the seventh game. That city, it’s going crazy.”