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Blues skate in critical Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final

Bruins Patrice Bergeron celebrates after the Bruins scored the only goal during the first period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, June 9, 2019, between the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

Nothing has come easily for the Blues this season. Did you really believe their championship party would come off without a hitch?

It's only fitting that they failed to close out Boston on Sunday night and hoist the Stanley Cup at home. It's only natural that they fell to the Bruins 5-1 at Enterprise Center to force Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston.

Taking the easier path toward their first parade . . . no, that just didn't fit this season's narrative.

The Blues took the hard road to the NHL playoffs. They waited until early January to start climbing from the bottom of the Western Conference pile.

They got within one bounce of the puck from falling to the Dallas Stars in their second-round Game 7. They lost two of their first three games to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final before rallying.

In their first home Cup Final game since 1970, they self-destructed and suffered a 7-2 Game 3 beating from the Bruins. That put them in another 2-1 series hole.

So long-suffering Blues fans realized Sunday's Game 6 could bring big trouble. And it did.

The Bruins didn't fold up in the face of intense forechecking, as the Sharks did in the previous round. The Blues had to steal Game 5 in Boston with Jordan Binnington's stellar goaltending and some timely help from the officials.

The Bruins were outraged over the non-call on Tyler Bozak's trip, which led to David Perron's decisive goal in Game 6. They channeled their frustration nicely to win Game 6 going away and even the series at 3-3.

They got some early help from Blues forward Brayden Schenn, whose undisciplined penalty -- an obvious charging call -- helped Boston get rolling.

And the Blues? They got more than a fair shake from the officials in this game but their inability to score with the man advantage (0 for 4!) undermined them.

The Bruins set out to replicate their strong first period in Game 5 in Boston, when they outshot the Blues 17-8. "That's our goal tonight," coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters beforehand. "Get the lead, extend the lead, play winning hockey to close out the game."

Schenn gave them the opportunity to do that by taking his foolish penalty 7 minutes, 17 seconds into the game just as his team built some forechecking momentum. That was a classic example of a player getting too fired up about the opportunity at hand.

The penalty had a domino effect. It led to Alex Pietrangelo's failed clearing attempt, Ryan O'Reilly's delay-of-game penalty, Boston's 5-on-3 advantage, Brad Marchand's conversion and a quick 1-0 Blues deficit.

The Bruins kept coming, on the remaining 5-on-4 power play and then at even strength. But for Binnington's early excellence, the Blues would have started down the same path they traveled in Game 3.

Instead they got a chance to tie the game with their second power play of the first period. But their exasperating failure with the man advantage continued.

This team has the uncanny ability to work the puck around to player after player after player after player that's not in position to shoot quickly. If they don't win the Cup, their woeful special teams will be the primary culprit.

They are 1 for 18 on the power play in this series and they've allowed a shorthanded goal. And the Bruins? They have scored seven times on the man advantage.

Game 6 opened up in the second period with the team exchanging rushes. The Blues generated a few good chances and near-misses during the up-and-down play.

Then they actually generated multiple chances on their third power play, which came after Marchand tried to take out Pietrangelo with one of his typically gutless leg-to-leg hits.

But the Bruins took firm grasp of the game early in the third period. Defenseman Brandon Carlo threw the puck toward the net from the right point and somehow it made its way past Binnington. That sucked the life out of the crowd and took the legs out from under the Blues.

Bruins forward Karson Kuhlman, who drew in after his 12-game playoff absence, scored the critical third goal. Looking to get No. 2 center David Krejci going, Cassidy inserted Kuhlman on his line while going back to using 12 forwards and six defensemen.

"He's good on the walls," Cassidy said of Kuhlman. "He's quick, good forecheck motor. The challenge for him will be like a lot of our guys, getting inside on this big, heavy D. But he is fast and he's responsible."

The Blues cut the lead to 3-1 with some help from Toronto, which detected a Ryan O'Reilly goal that the on-ice officials missed. But David Pasternak scored a lay-up to make it 4-1 and Zdeno Chara scored into the empty net to make it 5-1. 

While the Blues have been better on the road this season that at home, they did NOT want to give the Bruins a chance to rev up before their home crowd for the winner-take-all game Wednesday night.

At least the Blues will get human missile Ivan Barbashev back from his one-game suspension and gain another option for their lineup.

Once again they will be underdogs. Once again the experts will count them out. Once again they must dig down and elevate their play.

Can they do it one more time when you least expect it?

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.