Blues’ Bozak aims to exorcise demons against Bruins

Alex Pietrangelo explains to the media why he thinks the St. Louis Blues have enough experience in big games to handle the Stanley Cup Final.

BOSTON — Tyler Bozak is no stranger to the ghosts inside TD Garden.

He carries around haunting memories of the damage inflicted here by the Boston Bruins in playoffs past, and can only chuckle now about his luck.

That after switching teams and conferences, enduring the craziest single-season turnaround in NHL history and finally reaching the Stanley Cup final in his 10th year, he is still trying to find a way around the Bruins.

He has even found the positive in it.

"It’s nice for me just to have the experience of playing in this building, I think, in the playoffs. In that atmosphere," said Bozak. "I think that will kind of help me a little bit."

It will conjure familiar feelings when this championship series finally gets going with Game 1 here Monday night. And even if the 33-year-old centre wants no part of delving into the details of his unfinished business with the Bruins — "No matter who we were playing I’d feel the same way," Bozak said on Stanley Cup media day — there’s no denying it’s still there.

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Just as it was still there for his former teammate Clarke MacArthur, who found himself flashing back to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ devastating Game 7 loss in 2013 while facing Boston in another playoff series four years later. MacArthur wound up scoring the series-clinching goal for Ottawa in a game where the Bruins had rallied to tie it, and acknowledged seeing the black and yellow ghosts reappear that afternoon.

"It flashed through my mind – ‘not this s— again.’ It hit me right in the game," MacArthur told me in May 2017. "I was like ‘ah, man,’ you know how that building erupts like that.

"It’s crazy there, it’s absolutely insane."

Bozak experienced it during Toronto’s 2013 series with Boston, and again last spring. In fact, the final time he pulled on a Maple Leafs sweater was last April during another Game 7 in this building where the Bruins rallied in the third period to win.

It’s little wonder why he heard from so many former teammates after St. Louis advanced out of the Western Conference final. The Leafs have since lost another Game 7 to Boston this spring and made clear to Bozak where their allegiances lie with Stanley now up for grabs.

"They’re rooting for me," he said.

Bozak doesn’t seem to be in much of a mood to look back right now, and who can blame him?

His decision to sign a $15-million, three-year contract with the Blues last July 1 was a stroke of genius. Once the Leafs made it clear they didn’t have the cap space necessary to retain him in the spring, he wanted to find a city where his young family would be comfortable and a team where he could chase a championship.

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Now the Regina native is four wins away from taking the Stanley Cup on a Sasky tour this summer along with Wilcox’s Jaden Schwartz and Saskatoon’s Brayden Schenn.

"It’s awesome," said Bozak. "Pretty cool moment and experience. Obviously, surreal to actually have this opportunity."

It’s been quite a year.

Settling into St. Louis was easier than expected after a decade in Toronto because Bozak moved directly into Paul Stastny’s old house. The University of Denver alums are good buddies and hammered out the details of the transaction in short order.

"I think he overcharged me, too," quipped Bozak. "We were just like ‘How much is it?’ What do you want?’ It was actually really nice — it went so smooth and easy, and we didn’t have to deal with anything and our wives were just talking the whole time about it.

"It was great."

The on-ice adjustment took a little more time, especially since the Blues struggled out of the gates and found themselves in the NHL basement in early January. But Bozak looked around the dressing room and never lost faith in the belief they’d turn it around.

"There wasn’t really a point where I kind of regretted anything," he said.

He’s now settled into a third-line role that includes some penalty killing and power-play duties, and has scored a couple of big goals during this playoff run. And while he doesn’t have any prior Stanley Cup experience, he could offer an antidote in the area where the Bruins believe they enter the series with the biggest advantage.

"I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a Cup, have lost a Cup, that should give us an edge," said Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. "Some people disagree with that once you’re here, but I believe it will give us an edge. I think it’s helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the downtime, and hopefully going forward that is an advantage for us."

Bozak has plenty of on-the-job experience in Boston, where the Bruins are never entirely out of a game and have the ability to make it seem like they’ve got an extra skater on the ice while swarming opponents in the offensive zone as the fans turn the arena into a wall of white noise.

As this Stanley Cup final begins, no one needs to tell him how tough it’s going to be.

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