For the most part, everyone agrees that Noel Acciari was tripped in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and that the non-call played a big role in the outcome, right? The play didn’t cost the Boston Bruins the game, but it did cost them a chance to beat the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. Most reasonable hockey fans can agree on those points.
Unfortunately, there are some people who, despite acknowledging the brutal officiating, believe it didn’t matter. Why? Because the Blues outplayed the Bruins, or something.
A narrative has emerged (largely thanks to a certain Boston sports radio show that airs from 2-6 p.m. ET) that the Bruins weren’t the better team Thursday, that they were outplayed, and thus didn’t deserve to win. In the end, the better team won, as it should have.
This notion not only is profoundly stupid, but also flies in the face of one what makes hockey so great. First, let’s focus on why it’s stupid.
By nearly every statistical measure, Boston was the better team in Game 5. And, honestly, it wasn’t that close. St. Louis probably had the edge in the second period, which it began with a goal, but Boston largely dominated play in the first and third stanzas.
Boston had the edge in shots on goal (17-8), scoring chances (15-7) and high-danger scoring chances (4-1). It also had the edge in both Corsi (27-14) and Fenwick (19-8), two advanced stats that essentially account for all shots taken, including blocked shots and ones that missed the net. They’re not perfect, but they’re good indicators of which team was more assertive on offense.
The only stat the Bruins lost — and it’s a big one — was faceoffs. The Blues took 12 of 16 from the dot in the first period and owned the faceoff circle all night.
Boston had the edge in shots on goal (8-6), high-danger scoring chances (3-2) and Fenwick (10-8), but St. Louis had more scoring chances (8-6) and a better Corsi (16-11). The Blues also scored the only goal of the period and won 12 of 23 faceoffs.
Boston had the edge in shots on goal (14-7), scoring chances (13-6) and high-danger scoring chances (7-2). It also took both Corsi and Fenwick, with 27-11 and 21-10 edges, respectively. St. Louis took 14 of 25 faceoffs, though it lost two in the final minute, when the Bruins had the goalie pulled.
Overall, Boston had more shots, scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances Thursday night. It also won the advanced-stats battle, and committed just one penalty to the Blues’ four. Obviously, it’s easy to argue that St. Louis should have spent even more time in the box.
There’s also the eye test consider. Yes, it’s more subjective than number crunching, but it also offers the same conclusion: The Bruins were the better team in Game 5. At the very least, the game was far more competitive than some believe.
That brings us to the second point.
Hockey isn’t like other sports. Underdogs win. The better team sometimes loses. Sometimes, will, desire and teamwork trump talent. Sometimes a goalie stands on his head and steals a game. Sometimes the puck bounces in weird directions, and teams that got their asses kicked wind up winning. Sometimes expansion teams make the Cup Final.
Even if the Bruins were the worse team Thursday night, it’s nonsense to assume a 1-0 deficit midway through the third period was insurmountable. This is the Stanley Cup Final. We venture to guess both teams are capable of erasing a one-goal deficit within 10 minutes.
But the Bruins weren’t tasked with erasing a 1-0 deficit. They were dealt a fraudulent 2-0 hole, which is much harder to come back from.
By the way, we don’t subscribe to the notion that Jake DeBrusk’s goal at 13:32 proves Boston would have tied the game. That’s more nonsensical assumption-making, and ignores the possibility of St. Louis playing differently with a two-goal lead.
To be clear, we’re not making the case that Boston has been robbed, or that it would be leading the Cup Final if not for egregious officiating. On balance, the Blues probably have been the better team this series.
But Game 5? The Bruins were the superior hockey team at TD Garden, and were denied the opportunity to prove it on the scoreboard.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images