BOSTON – There have been a number of features to the Bruins snapping off 13 wins in their last 17 games headed into the three-day Christmas break.
Disciplined, consistent defense and superb goaltending have both been staples, and good health has been a key for a Black and Gold group that doubled as the walking wounded during the first few months of the season. But another undeniable factor for this Bruins team’s uprising has been the development of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak into the NHL’s best line as a double threat at both the offensive and defensive end of the ice.
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Tampa can have Nikita Kucherov and Steve Stamkos, and the Oilers can make an argument for whoever is playing with Connor McDavid on any given day. But the NHL's best trio has been wearing Black and Gold, and they've dominated everyone up-and-down for more than a month together.
“We have a little bit of everything. Pasta [David Pastrnak] obviously has a ton a skill and makes a lot of good plays and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is so good defensively he creates a ton of turnovers and then he’s unreal offensively too and creates opportunities and he can score goals from anywhere,” said Marchand, who is on pace for 43 goals and 91 points this season as he seems to keep setting and then re-setting his career highs every single season. “We just handle the puck. I think that’s our biggest asset – we recover a lot of pucks and get a lot of second opportunities when teams are cheating so I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”
They showed their offensive wares again on Saturday afternoon with Bergeron and Marchand providing all the goal-scoring in a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden, and once their high-powered, puck-dominant trio didn’t get scored upon. In fact Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak haven’t had any even-strength goals scored on them in 19 games together since Bruce Cassidy formed the power line together out of necessity due to injuries.
Now Cassidy wouldn’t dream of taking them apart as they routinely lead the way offensively, they show the highest of responsibility defensively and the rest of the Bruins forwards have figured out ways to support them when opponents focus all their energies on neutralizing Boston’s top line. The rest of the Bruins group doesn’t envy opponents that have to find any weaknesses within the BPD line because they simply aren’t there right now.
“I’m glad they’re on our team. That’s a matchup I wouldn’t want to play against. They’re all so skilled, and they all think the game very well. They’re always in the right position, they’re always making plays happen,” said rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy. “I think their hockey IQs is what allows them to have the success they have. Bergy as a center man, he’s always in the middle. He’s always that kind of safety valve, when he’s out there I’m confident we’re going to be alright and we’re going to be playing in their zone.
“They get good possession when they get set up in the O zone so it makes our lives easier having a line like that and they came through again tonight with some big goals and just like every night they’re huge for us.”
The offense is what you might expect with Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand combining for 40 percent of the Bruins’ goal-scoring output with 40 of the 101 goals scored for the B’s this season, and both Pastrnak and Marchand on pace for 40 plus goals this season. On Saturday it was Marchand that notched a power play goal in the first period, and then Bergeron provided the game-winner and the insurance with a pair of goals in the third period showed a couple of different things.
The first was the pure chemistry between Marchand and Bergeron that’s been almost seven years in the making, and saw Marchand feed a perfect dish to No. 37 that he could step into for a blistering one-timer past Jimmy Howard. Then Cassidy and the B’s coaching staff showed a new wrinkle late in the game protecting a one-goal lead as they put David Backes out with Bergeron and Marchand to lock things down.
That’s exactly what they did with Bergeron getting the empty net goal that iced the game, and the BPD line getting all the credit for a month plus of dominant work that’s shown them to be unstoppable by any metrics one might want to use. They dominate puck possession, they simply don’t give up goals to whomever they’re matched up against, and Marchand and Pastrnak are on track for career years with Bergeron “slacking” to a pace of just 27 goals and 64 points this season.
There’s a long way to go and it remains to be seen if Cassidy can keep his top intact as the season keeps rolling along, but it’s going to be awfully difficult to bust up a forward trio that nobody seems to have any answers for this year.
“We have three really good players. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is about as good a 200-foot player as there is in the league. He can obviously score goals but defensively – I knew he was good coming to the team -- but when you watch him on a nightly basis, he’s always in the right spot,” said David Backes. “He never is out of position and he’s always hard on the puck when it’s around him. From that, Marchy gets to open up his offensive side of things. Pasta [David Pastrnak] does the same thing and Pasta is certainly a very special offensive talent. March [Brad Marchand] just as well.
“Marchy maybe helps a little more on the defensive side of things but they’re a pretty special combination when they are together. They play power play together so they get a lot of that commonality. They get the consistency and they produce. We love having that. I don’t know what you do as a game plan to shut them down, and hope someone is going to beat you with somebody else. They are also a matchup line that’ll play against another team’s best line but they’ll get the better of that matchup. That’s a nightmare I think for coaches.”
It’s obviously a nightmare for opposing coaches this season given their offensive and defensive feats of strength. But it’s been a perfect development for a Bruins that now know they can rely every single night on the BPD line dominating when they’re on the ice, and have no reason to shy away from the most feared and respected forward trio across the 31 teams in the NHL.