BRIGHTON -- Sometimes a Stanley Cup playoff series can be a complicated twist of strengths and weaknesses, with an ever-changing tone and balance. It’s the kind of high-level equation of statistics, momentum and flat-out desire that defies convention or easy explanation, and it’s why there's nothing quite like the NHL postseason when it’s firing on all cylinders.
To date, the Bruins-Senators series has been nothing like that, unfortunately. Instead, it's had a pretty simple storyline:
Ottawa's best players have risen to the occasion and Boston's haven't. It's why the Senators carry a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 Friday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, and why the B's are going home after tonight if it doesn't change.
Brad Marchand -- who had a number of scoring chances that he failed to capitalize on in Game 4 -- was the Bruins' leading goal-scorer in the regular season but he has just one in the first four games. That one was the game-winner in Game 1 . . . and it's not much of a coincidence that the Bruins won when he scored.
David Pastrnak also has a goal for the B’s in the series, but has been limited to just two shots on goal while missing the net or getting it blocked a whopping 18 times.
Those two combined for almost 75 goals during the regular season and have been explosive game-breakers. But they, and their teammates, have been stifled by a Senators team that gums up the neutral zone and frustrates the B’s offensively at every turn. Combine that with a clearly banged-up David Krejci (two shots and no points in two games), an invisible Ryan Spooner (two shots on net and a minus-2 in two games) and a below-his-level Patrice Bergeron (one goal and two points in two games and down to a 50 percent success rate on face-offs), who hasn’t quite been up to his standard in any facet of the game, and it’s been a challenge for coach Bruce Cassidy to find a way to spark Boston’s offense.
“You’ve got to keep plugging away,” said Cassidy. “Our power play through the course of the year has generated offense. We haven’t drawn enough penalties too. So, we’ve got to look at ourselves there and say, how can we get on the power play and get inside more often? [How can we] force them to pull you down a little bit? . . .
"But . . . yeah . . . we need a little bit more from our offensive guys.”
On the other side of the coin, Ottawa’s best players are dominating the series. Erik Karlsson has proven his standing as one of the best players in the world with five assists and a plus-2 in four games while playing close to 30 minutes a night. In addition, the Swedish defenseman has been the architect of nearly every important Senators goal. His speed, his on-ice vision, his ability to avoid big hits and stay on his game, and his underrated big shot from the point have all been problematic for the B’s, and they don’t seem to have an answer for him.
“He’s good," said Marchand. "He's probably the most efficient skater in the league. The way he can get up and down the ice is pretty impressive,. He’s not an easy guy to hit either, so it’s tough . . .
"I think the main thing is you need to have everybody coming back, and to know where he is at all times. But he’s not an easy guy to shut down when he wants to play.”
It goes beyond Karlsson wanting to play, of course.
Bobby Ryan is only on the ice for an average of 12 minutes a game but has found a way to frustrate with his flopping and play-acting while also scoring three goals around the net as a big-body with skill. Mike Hoffman’s speed (two goals) and Derick Brassard’s grit (two goals and five points in four games) have been difference-makers as well, and those players have stepped up to win games for the Senators and put them in a position to snuff out the B’s on Friday night.
If this trend continues in Game 5, it’s going to be over for the Bruins. It won’t be an upset, or a shock, given all of the injuries Boston has suffered in its defense corps.
But if the Bruins' big guns start firing and match what Ottawa has been doing for the entire series, maybe the results will be different. And it’s plain as that.