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Craig Berube Works The Refs, Because Not Much Else Is Working For The Blues

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat (Getty)

Jordan Binnington will be back in net and the Blues believe his newfound porosity was a fluke, and Oskar Sundqvist will return after serving his one-game suspension, so not only are they ready to move past their Game 3 shitkicking, but they’re out of excuses for it. Mostly. Down 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final, St. Louis is running out of time to both get right and to use every last trick in the bag to gain an advantage. To that end, head coach Craig Berube used his off-day press conference on Sunday to complain about the officiating. Desperation? Or just good, old-fashioned working the refs? Why not both?

The Bruins have outplayed the Blues in, let’s say, seven of nine-plus periods of this series, and it might be because they’re better—they are—but it’s also been difficult to judge because they’ve been just shredding St. Louis on the power play. Boston’s scored six of its 13 goals with a man advantage, and on Saturday the PP unit was 4-for-4 on four shots.

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Through three games, the Blues have been penalized 17 times and been shorthanded 14 times, compared to just 10 power-play chances for St. Louis. Berube’s not saying; he’s just saying.

“First of all, we were the least penalized team in the league in the first three rounds; now all of a sudden we’ve taken 14 penalties in one series,” Berube said. “So I don’t know.”

It’s true that the Blues averaged under three penalties a game in the first three rounds of the playoffs, before being whistled at least five times in every game of this series. But the discrepancy is also relatively easy to explain by how they match up with Boston. The Bruins are faster and more skilled, and St. Louis’s gameplan for this series was specifically to try to slow them down by being physical. That means forechecking, and finishing checks, and putting bodies on bodies in the neutral zone, and sometimes it works, as it did as Game 2 went along, but more often in this series it’s drawn whistles. There’s a fine line between physicality and infraction, and the Blues’ obvious frustrations with Boston skating circles around them has generally put them on the wrong side of that line.

Berube admitted as much.

“I think that we could definitely be more composed after the whistle. I think we’ve let some frustration get in there where we maybe do too much after the whistle. So we’ll clean that up, for sure. But like I said, we were the least penalized team in the league coming into this series. I don’t agree with all of the calls.”

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There’s not a lot of value in looking at the sheer number of calls without going one-by-one and seeing how many were blown calls; sometimes, a team really does really just commit a lot of penalties, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any that were egregious. Berube knows this. His point is not to imply some sort of NHL conspiracy against the Blues. It’s to make tonight’s officials think twice on borderline calls, and to whip up the home crowd to react—and there’s a whole host of research indicating that crowd noise is the single largest influencer of officials.

More than anything, Berube wants the officials to act more like the stereotypical zebras who swallow their whistles in the finals. Of course he does; “letting them play” would benefit the bruising Blues, and punish the Bruins, whose 35.9 percent postseason power play is the second-best mark of all time (with at least 15 games). There are only a few games left, so it’s now or never for Berube’s gamesmanship.

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