The kid from Ohio does have a certain knack, doesn’t he?
The Bruins played another big hockey game on Monday — their biggest so far, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — and, of course, Sean Kuraly played a huge part in the 4-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues at the Garden.
The B’s had spotted the Blues and their vaunted defense a 2-0 lead early in the second period. But with Kuraly leading the way, the B’s dominated the Blues in the second two periods, often times skating by the visitors as if they were standing still.
Kuraly not only assisted on the goal that got the B’s back into the game and then scored the third period game-winner, his “fourth” line with Noel Acciari and Joakim Nordstrom was switched onto the Blues top line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, which had scored both the St. Louis goals, and pretty much shut it down the rest of the way.
That was a first-star kind of night for Kuraly. And it’s no surprise. While Kuraly has a grand total of 14 goals in 154 regular-season games — including a big one in the Winter Classic earlier this season — he has seven tallies in 30 playoff games. When the lights are brightest, Kuraly is at his best.
The Blues took a 1-0 lead when a fortuitous bounce landed on Brayden Schenn’s stick for a Grade A chance from the slot in the first period. Then with a minute gone in the second period, they doubled the lead when David Pastrnak had a miscommunication with Zdeno Chara, dropping a pass behind the net while the captain stayed out front. It went right to Schenn, who fed Tarasenko for an easy goal.
So much for that. Coach Bruce Cassidy decided to take the top line off the Schenn line. But they needed to score some goals now, too, and Kuraly got the B’s on the board with Connor Clifton 1:16 after Tarasenko’s goal. He took a pass in his own end from Nordstrom, carried it all the way from the left boards in the defensive zone to the right circle in the offensive circle before hitting Clifton, who was paid no mind by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.
And after Charlie McAvoy tied it up in the second, Kuraly scored the winner. First Acciari won the puck from Carl Gunnarson on the left side and then zipped a pass to Kuraly on the left. With 6-foot-4, 215-pound Joel Edmundson on him at the top of the crease, the 6-2, 215-pound Kuraly calmly kicked the puck onto his stick blade and lifted it past goalie Jordan Binnington.
The higher the stakes, the icier his blood gets.
“I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy the game,” he said of his big-game exploits. “We’ve got a group that makes that pretty easy. Our leadership group kind of takes a lot of the burden and just lets us play. That was kind of the result tonight.”
But as important as the offense contributions were, it was the defense the line played that seemed to impress coaches and teammates every bit as much. After the Tarasenko goal, the B’s allowed just two shots on Tuukka Rask for the rest of the second period and took control of the game.
“This is what they do. The possess pucks. They can skate. They play simple hockey,” Cassidy said. “And I think against St. Louis, if you play north, especially for us being off as long as we were, we had to not get drawn into the fancy stuff, the east-west stuff. That’s stuff you do in practice because you don’t have the competitive edge. It showed on the second goal. We mismanaged the puck. Even on the first one, we got a little loose. At the end of the day (Kuraly’s line) is always going to play a straight line game. Sometimes they get rewarded, sometimes they don’t, but they always play the same way. That’s what they did tonight, and they got rewarded by going to the net They’re always good defensively. Noel will add the physicality. And I think we needed to be more physical against that line.”
Kuraly and his linemates relish the challenge of facing top lines.
“We know what our job is when we go out against a line like that,” Kuraly said. “It’s to make it difficult for them to create any offense. They’re a great line, so it’s tough. But the expectation from us is to just play them hard and play them honest and make them earn every inch. If they beat us with their skill, which will definitely happen at times, then so be it. But you’re not going to beat us with something silly that’s a mistake by us.”