Bruins

Big Rick Nash hitting the ground running for B's in playoffs

Big Rick Nash hitting the ground running for B's in playoffs

BRIGHTON, Mass – It was really a great unknown what 33-year-old Rick Nash was going to be able to bring to the Bruins in the playoffs after missing most of the season’s last month with a concussion. Nash never made it back into the B’s lineup for any kind of dress rehearsal regular season games ahead of the postseason, but it apparently wasn’t necessary for a veteran power forward that’s been a big-bodied factor in Boston’s first two games vs. Toronto.

It was Nash that drew penalties in Game 1 with his puck possession game while playing keep-away from the Toronto defense, and that led to power play production on Thursday night.

“It’s a new playoff for me just trying to take it as it comes,” said Nash. “I’ve had three and a half weeks off so it’s been a bit of a battle for me, trying to get my speed up. When you win it seems like everything goes right.”

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In Saturday’s Game 2 it was time for Nash to get on the score sheet and he did exactly that with a power play strike camped right in front of the net in Boston’s 7-3 romp over the Maple Leafs at TD Garden.

“His impact has been tremendous, right from [Game 1], from the first shift on. His speed is obviously something they have to be aware of – it kind of makes their defensemen aware -- and he has that chemistry with David [Krejci] and Jake [DeBrusk],” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s been a very good line for us. So, you’re right, his impact has been great.”

Nash finished with the PP goal and six shot attempts in Saturday night’s win with the B’s top line taking most of the accolades, but the Bruins now that the big right winger is going to be an important piece in their postseason run. Eventually the offense is going to slow down for Patrice Bergeron’s line during Boston’s postseason run, and that’s when the B’s second line needs to playing that big supporting role. The Bruins had three 30-goal scorers this season in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, but they didn’t have even one other 20-goal scorer among a number of B’s players that cracked double-digits this season. Nash is the kind of talented offensive finisher that can provide that level of offensive punch, and brings the size/strength element for a mostly undersized, young forward group up front.

“At the end of the day, he’s an important player for us. That deal was made for a reason. He’s an elite player, so unfortunately, we lost him for a stretch there, but we saw it before he got hurt. [He] makes us more of a threat of a team,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s just a proven player in this league that can finish, that can win pucks and get to the net.”

The power forward size and strength, and net-front abilities, are exactly the kinds of skills that are going to factor in a much bigger way during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that’s already started to happen two games in with Nash and Boston.

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Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

Haggerty: For first time in series, Bruins feeling the heat

TORONTO -- For the first time in their first-round series against the Maple Leafs, it looks like the Bruins are a little shaken, somewhat rattled, and more than a little frustrated.

The Bruins' top line was held off the score sheet for the third time in the best-of-seven series in Boston's 3-1 loss in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre Monday night, which tied the series at 3-3 and set up Game 7 Wednesday at TD Garden. Not coincidentally, the Bruins are 0-3 in the series when getting zero point production from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

DJ BEAN

But this was markedly different from the first couple of Boston losses in the series, where it seemed like Toronto was basically holding on for dear life. In those games, it felt like goalie Freddie Andersen and the Maple Leafs managed to escape rather than accomplish anything sustained or significant against a Boston attack that felt relentless and inevitable.

This time, a stouter Leafs defense blocked 21 shots and battled every step of the way with speed and admirable tenacity. And, of course, Toronto received another standout effort from Andersen, who seems to be getting into the heads of the Boston players.

Especially Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. They still managed to squeeze off 26 shot attempts and a half-dozen scoring chances, but, by the third period, Marchand and Pastrnak both seemed to be feeling the pressure of not scoring. They began doing things they hadn't previously done in the series, getting overly fancy with a lot of their moves in the offensive zone and turning the puck over rather than pushing with precision and hard work toward the net.

"That's playoff hockey," said Marchand. "Regardless of what happened tonight or any other game, you've got to let it go. You just need to worry about the next one. We'll focus on that and let this one go . . . They just kept coming. They're a good team. They've been resilient all year, so you've got to give them a lot of credit.

"If anybody told us at the beginning of the year that we'd be in a Game 7 in the first round at home, I think we would have taken it. It's tough given the position that we're in, but we're just going to look forward to the next game. That's all that we can control. Whatever happened in the last six games doesn't really matter anymore. We're going to be fighting for our lives, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

It sure didn't seem like Marchand was having much fun in Game 6. He couldn't hang onto a loose puck in the D-zone slot late in the second period, and the sequence ended with Mitch Marner snapping home a backhander that broke a 1-1 tie and put Toronto ahead to stay. Whether it was forcing plays that weren't there, over-passing at points when a simple shot would have been better, or missing the net too often while trying to be too fine picking corners against Andersen, the frustration showed for Marchand and his linemates.

That's not a good look for a top-heavy team like the Bruins, which relies on those top forwards to score for playoff success. After piling up 20 points in the first couple of games in the series, the top line has no points and a minus-16 plus/minus rating in the three losses.

"Maybe there was a little bit of [frustration], but you need to go back to the drawing board and find the character that we've shown all year," said Bergeron. "Now it's all about that one game. You can look back all you want, but now that's where you're at and that's the position that we're in. You have to prevail and be good.

"The bottom line is that we need to bear down and be better. It's as simple as that. It's how it should be . . . We have some amazing young players that are in this locker room, and I know they're going to step up. That's the approach that we're going to have, and that's it. There's not much more to be said other than we need to be better."

The question now facing the Bruins is a deep, difficult one.

Should Bruce Cassidy perhaps break up the top line, making the Bruins attack a little less imbalanced and top-heavy? Should he perhaps move Pastrnak down to the David Krejci line while moving David Backes, Rick Nash or Danton Heinen up with Bergeron and Marchand? Should he insert Ryan Donato into the series for a spark of offense and perhaps try him on his off-wing with Bergeron and Marchand in a move that might spark them with a different kind of energy?

By the end of Monday night's Game 6, the Bruins top players almost looked like the weight of carrying Boston's offense had finally begun to wear on them. That's a dynamic that needs to be fixed quickly. Home ice, a couple of adjustments, and the immediacy of a winner-take-all Game 7 might do the trick.

If not, that weight on the collective shoulders of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak will be the thing that ultimately drags the Bruins down.

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Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

Talking Points: Marner lights it up while Pasta struggles

GOLD STAR: Mitch Marner has been a problem for the Bruins during the regular season, and he’s proving to be a problem once again in the playoffs. The Leafs forward scored the game-winning goal in the second period when he jumped on a Brad Marchand turnover in the D-zone, and snapped a backhanded bid past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. It was part of a two points, plus-2 night for Marner in his 16:44 of ice time where played strong, solid hockey, and stayed patient until Boston’s top line made a misstep that they could jump all over at the end of the period. Otherwise Marner mostly stayed out of the fray in the game and simply played a strong two-way game that was easily their best defensive effort of the series. Marner now has two goals and eight points against the B’s in the six games played thus far.

BLACK EYE: David Pastrnak just wasn’t good in this game. He missed three shots on net, had another six blocked and finished a minus-1 with one shot on net in 19:44 of ice time while clearly looking frustrated at what was going on around him. Both Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were pulling out overly fancy moves, over-passing and missing the net with their shot attempts in a clear sign that Freddie Andersen is beginning to get in their heads. If that doesn’t cease quickly in Game 7 then the Bruins could be in a world of hurt with a big chance to take a nice step this season, and move on to at least the second round if not getting any further than it. But right now the Bruins top line has gone from looking like a well-oiled machine to looking like a sputtering jalopy in need of some service at the shop.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins took over the game in the first period with their puck possession and usual dominance from their top line, and looked really ready to roll when Jake DeBrusk scored little more than a minute into the second period. But the Bruins allowed Toronto to score right back 35 seconds later and that seemed to really knock the Bruins off their pins for most of the rest of the game. It was a long rebound of a Nazem Kadri shot that was kicked out by Tuukka Rask, and then went right to William Nylander for the rebound score. The Bruins were fortunate that another goal was overturned due to goalie interference that would have quickly made it a 2-1 game, but it was clear the Bruins never really controlled the game again after the two quick goals at the start of the second period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk had the only goal for the Bruins, so he earns a little credit in a 3-1 loss. DeBrusk now has three goals in the series and was on the spot firing home a shot after a David Krejci offensive zone face-off win that gave Boston’s second line their third even strength goal of the series. DeBrusk also finished as one of only two players, along with Tommy Wingels, that ended the night with a positive plus/minus rating, and had three hits while playing fast and strong along the boards and in front of the net. There are a few other young players that haven’t looked particularly adept at the playoff-style of play in this series for Boston, but DeBrusk has thoroughly looked like he belongs since the drop of the puck in Game 1.

BY THE NUMBERS: -- minus-16: the combined plus-minus rating for Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in the three Bruins losses where they’ve also been kept off the score sheet by the Leafs defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe there is a little bit of [frustration], but you've got to go back to the drawing board and find the character we've shown all year. Now it's about one game." –Patrice Bergeron, on battling the frustration of losing two straight and instead getting ready for a Game 7 showdown on Wednesday night.

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