ST. LOUIS — For as real as the scenario was, Charlie McAvoy didn’t want to ponder it.
None of the men in Boston’s locker room wanted to, nor dwell on the consequences that a loss on Sunday night would bring.
The odds weren’t exactly in Boston’s favor, trailing, 3-2, in the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues. Overall, teams with a 3-2 advantage under the best-of-seven format own a 315-87 series record (.784) in NHL history, including a 32-8 clip in the Stanley Cup Final. The last club to climb out of such a hole in the biggest stage? The 2011 Bruins.
Had Gloria rang out at Enterprise Center and along the packed boulevards of St. Louis on Sunday night, the joy of a 51-year championship drought quenched for the Blues would be offset by the crushing weight of disappointment in the visiting locker room.
They’d hear about it all summer, if not much, much longer.
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McAvoy and his teammates weren’t saddling themselves with those thoughts. Rather than expectations, the prevailing fear creeping in the room was that of loss.
Had Boston’s season come to an end in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, a journey started in China, sent on a detour to South Bend and rolling through 23 postseason bouts would end with no hardware. Just fleeting memories. And with the offseason awaiting them, there was no doubt that this same crop of skaters would not remain intact for opening puck drop come October.
The minutes ticked away in the dressing room, and the task at hand loomed large. Boston had 60 minutes (or more) of hockey on the docket, but it didn’t make things any easier for McAvoy to tune out the worst-case scenario.
“The emotions ... like, crap, it's a lot,” McAvoy said. “Our backs are against the wall and you have so many mixed emotions. You do whatever it takes. This is your dream to win this thing and when your backs are against the wall and you know they're one away, it hurts a little bit. ... We're a family.
“We believe in each other and we all love each other. Just the thought of it being over tonight was terrifying. We'd come all this way.”
There have been few passengers during this run to the Cup, with the Bruins tying an NHL record with 21 different skaters lighting the lamp so far over the course of postseason.
But with the season teetering the brink of oblivion, a regular voice spoke out in the Bruins’ locker room.
The message that was delivered verbatim by Patrice Bergeron ahead of Game 6 will remain behind closed doors, but the context was more than enough to paint the picture — and uncover the driving force behind Boston’s impassioned 5-1 victory Sunday night.
“It was exactly what we needed. It was an element of what the dream is,” McAvoy said. “Growing up, every one of us shares the same dream and kind of just bringing us all to a point where we can all be on the same field. We were all a little kid once and we all wanted this bad. And I think it was just an element of savoring this moment and not letting it end tonight. It was exactly what we needed. He stepped up. When he talks, you listen.”
Bergeron’s plea to not let this title slip through Boston’s fingers reverberated throughout the roster.
Sure, Boston’s big guns made their presence felt on a night where Boston forced a Game 7 of a Cup Final on home ice for the first time in franchise history. Tuukka Rask stopped 28 of the 29 shots that came his way. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak found the back of the net. Torey Krug notched his 18th point on the postseason, and sixth in the Stanley Cup Final.
But the usual suspects were far from the only ones that took Bergeron’s message to heart.
Karson Kuhlman got the message. Playing in his first Cup Final contest and first game overall since April 30, the rookie sparked Boston’s second line and went toe to toe with the Blues’ forecheckers, adding a goal to boot.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 10, 2019
John Moore got the message. Playing in his fourth straight game as a replacement for a banged-up blue line, Moore logged 17:06 of ice time in Sunday’s win, while registering a team-high three blocks.
Joakim Nordstrom got the message. Primarily matched up against the buzzsaw that has been Ryan O’Reilly’s line, Nordstrom led all forwards in ice time at 18:31 and added two hits and a blocked shot.
Jake DeBrusk (two blocks) got the message. Brandon Carlo (second goal this series) got the message. Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari — the list goes on and on. All pulling the rope, all scrapping and clawing in an effort to keep playing hockey together.
Jake DeBrusk eating up pucks. pic.twitter.com/R0sa3T0ZHd
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) June 10, 2019
Reading over the final box score, Bergeron failed to tally a point in Sunday’s victory, finishing as a minus-1 over 16:15 of ice time. Fair to say, his impact carried far over whatever scorebook or graphic one could provide.
“Tremendous. I believe those veteran guys come in handy before the game,” Bruce Cassidy said of his veterans. “They’ll come in handy tomorrow and Tuesday for us. We’re going to have to live a bit what St. Louis did today and have to deal with now you’re going home, the Stanley Cup’s in the building, someone’s winning it.
“You’ve got a lot of new friends all the sudden or old ones are coming out of the woodwork. I think the message, they’ve been good at that: stay in your bubble. …. But those veteran guys can sure help you in the moments where you have a little bit of free time and maybe you think too much and you get in your way. I believe they’ve have done a good job.”
The Bruins will live to play another day, but on Wednesday night, that same looming fear will likely return — mixed with the anticipation and excitement that come from knowing three periods of hockey are all that separate the B’s from the greatest trophy in sports.
That dread might remain, but Bergeron’s message will endure as well. It wasn't lost on the minds of his teammates in the minutes following Sunday's win, nor will it fade in the minutes leading up to a decisive Game 7.
“He’s a legend,” DeBrusk said of Bergeron. “I don’t know if he wants me to necessarily repeat them. They weren’t bad words. It was just about what we all dream about doing. We’re here for a reason and everyone who plays hockey grows up and dreams of playing in this moment. To see him kind of set the tone that way — it made us want to run through a wall.”