Bruins

Healing Bruins ready to pick up the pace

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Healing Bruins ready to pick up the pace

BRIGHTON -- Given the spaced-out schedule and the preponderance of non-playoff opponents they were facing, the Bruins' 3-3-1 record at this stage of October would seem to represent missed opportunity.

But, in actuality, we may remember it more as a blessing.

The Bruins were swamped by a massive wave of injuries in the first weeks of the season, and a lull in the schedule may prove to be the best time to absorb it. Even with Tuukka Rask and Kevan Miller cleared to play for tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks, they’re still missing David Krejci, Noel Acciari, Ryan Spooner and Adam McQuaid. Nor do they have Patrice Bergeron, David Backes or Torey Krug at full strength, even though they're more-than-welcomed returnees to the lineup.

So there's still some time that needs to pass, and healing that needs to be done, before the Bruins will be anywhere close to 100 percent.  

But in spite of all that, the B’s are looking forward to things picking up with their schedule.

After playing 10 games during the entire month of October, the Bruins will ramp it up with 9 games in 16 days at the start of November. They’ll ease into that stretch with three games in five days to close out October after a lot of practice time in the last couple of weeks.

It’s a rare thing  for an NHL head coach to eschew extra practice time, but Bruce Cassidy openly wished his team could have played Wednesday rather than tonight. Too much practice can dull the sharpened edges of game action or suck the emotion out of things for the players, and that’s not a good thing.

“It would have been nice to play [on Wednesday] after we’d dealt with our issues at practice as far as defending the slot are and working back to put our fires so to speak,” said Cassidy. “Last week it was a puck-support issue, and I thought we did a much better job against Vancouver and Buffalo with that, and it showed on the score sheet offensively.

“But I think we need to play some games to better evaluate our group as well. It’s just a more enjoyable process for the guys, as well. Last year it was one of those things at the beginning of last year where it was too much, and the schedule was crazy. We’d like to get back at it.”

After playing a grand total of 3 games over the last 10 days and 6 over the last 16, the Bruins will not only pick up the pace but they'll also start facing more conference foes. After a West-heavy start to the schedule, the Bruins will play traditional Eastern opponents like the Blue Jackets, Rangers, Capitals and Maple Leafs. And they hope all this  will finally get them into the rhythm of the season after an uneven start.

One might think the Bruins will take all the off days they can to heal and regroup. But that would be wrong according to the B’s players.

“I think this is going to help us, actually,” said Backes. “You get into a rhythm and you get into a routine, and you remember that feeling when it was just 36 or 48 hours prior to the next game. You’re able to cultivate that -- whether it was a good or a bad one -- into the next game, and either change it or not. Now it’s been four days with three days of practice, and those feelings aren’t as recent or as familiar. It’s not fresh in our minds.

“We’ve come out well [in the games], but I think playing every day is going to be very good for this group. We can stop some of the monotony of practice and play for keeps every other day. That’s going to be really good.”

The monotony ends when the puck is dropped tonight. And the Bruins hope that'll be reflected in on-ice results once they get into the true rhythm of the regular season.

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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