Bruins

Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

BOSTON – When the first round playoff series against the Maple Leafs is over with and the Boston have either advanced or started making tee times, one thing will remain true about the games played. It feels pretty clear at this point that many people, the fans, the media and perhaps some people in the B’s organization as well, vastly underestimated how difficult things would be against the Maple Leafs, and just how much that Toronto team has grown in a season.

One would have assumed that the Bruins would be the victorious team in a scoreless defensive battle that went into the third period before the first goal was scored. That assumption would have been wrong in Game 5 as Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen scored third period goals to pace the Leafs to a tight, defense-heavy 2-1 win over the B’s at TD Garden.

The Bruins have now lost two of their three home games in this series and have been held to just one goal in two of those three defeats at TD Garden. It’s a far cry from the Leafs team that ranked 20th in the league in defense during the regular season averaging three goals allowed per game, and the B’s are learning that the hard way.

Clearly some credit is due to the Maple Leafs for the way they’re playing, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy also sounded like he’s pretty tired of watching his team fail to get to their highest level of play in this series.

“This is a whole new group, and they’ve got to find their way. That was the message [to the team]. There was a lack of urgency in our play [in Game 5]. At times it was there, but in general I don’t think this team has reached where it can get to in the playoffs in terms of team play,” said Cassidy. “We’ve had pockets of it and we’ve played well at times, with value for both of our wins. But we have to reach our level if we expect to advance.”

While it’s clear that the Bruins aren’t playing at their level best, it’s also about the Maple Leafs improving from last season. It’s almost as if adding a world class two-way center in John Tavares and a shutdown defenseman in Jake Muzzin have made the Maple Leafs significantly better than they were last spring.

“We obviously would like to see them generate more, but there’s not a lot of room out there. We’ve said it. I think Toronto has done a better job defensively on us. We have to fight our way through it, find different ways to crack at it, and I think we did out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought we got some goals [in Game 4] because we caught them in between on a pinch. We recovered a puck, got it to the top of the crease for the Marchand goal.

“Obviously, our power played helped, but we did get three even-strength goals, and I thought tonight we were having a tough time.”

So what are the Bruins to do if they want to change things in the series?

It starts with getting offense from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak given the overwhelming success the Bruins have enjoyed when they get on the score sheet, and it continues with getting Jake DeBrusk going after he was a key offensive figure with five goals in last spring’s first round series. It sounds like the Bruins think part of the problem has been worrying too much about what Toronto is doing, and not putting enough into dictating terms in the series with their own play.

One would expect that’s going to change in Sunday’s Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena with the B’s backs against the proverbial wall.

“We’re all capable of so much more, especially collectively as a group. We have the ability to beat anyone in this league and play at the top consistently, and we showed that throughout the season,” said Torey Krug. “Now we reach this point where both teams are working hard. They’ve done a good job, but I think we just need to play up to our potential, focus on ourselves and make them adapt to us. Don’t worry too much about what they’re doing and instead focus on ourselves.”

If the Bruins carry through with all of their real talk following Game 5, there will be probably be a good result in Game 6 and an ensuing Game 7 at TD Garden next week. If they don’t then everybody will be left to wonder how this 107-point team from the regular season never quite made it to that level once they hit the Stanley Cup playoff circuit in April. 

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Are Bruins just one top-six power forward away from greatness?

Are Bruins just one top-six power forward away from greatness?

A little more than a year ago the Bruins fell in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in part because their forwards couldn’t fight through the big, strong Tampa Bay defensemen corps in a five-game playoff series.

The Perfection Line was held in check in 5-on-5 play and the Bruins forwards really didn’t do much of anything offensively after the opening game of the series.

This postseason, the B’s obviously pushed a lot further into the Stanley Cup playoffs while making it all the way to the Cup Final. Some of that was by the circumstance of the way the postseason played out with the early exits of many of the top seeds, of course, but some of it was also Boston’s ability to play different styles against Toronto, Columbus and Carolina.

Still, the Bruins again sealed their fate when their forwards couldn’t do enough 5-on-5 against a St. Louis Blues team that featured a massive, committed D-corps that didn’t let the B’s anywhere near the front of the net. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were banged up while combining for exactly zero even-strength goals in the series and David Pastrnak was battling a crisis of confidence that saw him finish with a team-worst minus-7 in the series.

Similarly, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and whoever was manning the right wing for the B’s second line didn’t do much damage either against the Blues back-enders.

The Bruins had great depth all-around among their forwards this postseason and that helped them make it to the final round of the postseason. Again, it seemed as if the Bruins were short in the size and strength department among their top-six forwards when it came to net-front presence and getting to some of the rebounds left around the net by rookie goalie Jordan Binnington.

“It’s really a blend of your hockey club. We played sort of four different teams throughout the playoffs, and we matched up pretty well in all of them," Bruins GM Don Sweeney said this week at his end-of-the-season press conference. "When you come down to the margins that you have of losing a Game 7, I don’t know whether or not you necessarily say now did we score enough 5v5? No, but everybody would say that throughout our lineup, if we had just chipped in. To St. Louis’ credit, it wasn’t just the defensemen that were doing that. They make it hard on you, the same way that Tampa did.

“We had more depth this year to be able to withstand some of those things and take the matchups in other places in the lineup that I think helped our hockey club, and it showed. That’s why I think we went further. We gave ourselves a chance to win right until the very end. If you’re telling me there’s a perfect player to solve some of those, what every team would be looking for, yeah. Yeah, I’ll put that guy right in there, but sometimes you just have to allow other players to get better in their own right. We have players that will hopefully continue to do that.”

There may not be a perfect player out there for the Bruins unless they start putting more of a premium on drafting the next great, young power forward. Chris Kreider is an intriguing name that brings size, scoring and a little bit of nasty to the table.  He's coming off 28 goals and 52 points for the Rangers this past season.

Former fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi is 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and wants out of Edmonton so badly he’s willing to play in Europe this season if the Oilers don’t move him. Forwards James Neal and Michael Frolik will be mentioned in trade talks around July 1 and hard-hitting, nasty winger Michael Ferland, a free agent, might be exactly what the Bruins are looking for.

Maybe it will be Charlie Coyle bumping up to the right wing on one of the top two lines, or perhaps a younger, big-bodied Peter Cehlarik or Trent Frederic can bring some of that power forward game internally.

“Does Charlie Coyle move up in the right side? Again, putting Charlie in a consistent spot is I think when he plays his best hockey,” wondered Sweeney aloud. “He referenced that when he was in Minnesota, a production role. He could slide up and play right wing if another player emerged from within.

“I could go through the guys. Trent Frederic would be the obvious [third-line center candidate] if he inserts himself, Sean [Kuraly] plays up, maybe you move Charlie to the right. For right now, I think the balance of our group, what Coyle presents is mismatch is at times for other teams gives us balance.”

Still, it was apparent this postseason as it was last postseason that the Bruins are in need of a power forward winger among their top-six forwards. The Perfection Line is just a little too much undersized when push comes to shove and spent too much time on the perimeter against the Blues.

What the Bruins could really use is a time machine to send 35-year-old David Backes back 10 years to the player he was in his prime with the Blues. That isn’t going to happen, so they need to go out and find the next best thing, whatever that may be.

Part of the problem seems to be that the Bruins aren’t identifying this as the biggest issue facing their forwards. Sure, Bruins President Cam Neely said they want to get another top-six forward, but it sounds as if he simply wants a player that’s going to shoot the puck with an itchy trigger finger.

“I mean, if they can skate,” said Neely with a smile when asked if the B’s top-six needs a little more size and snarl. “You have to be able to skate nowadays, as you know in this game. I thought that we could’ve put more pucks on the net to give their defensemen a turn, and look to where the pucks are as opposed to trying to beat guys one-on-one.

“I felt we should’ve shot the puck a little more to try to create, whether it’s rebound opportunities or at least get them scrambling around a little bit. Give [the Blues] credit. They played well. They kept us on the outside, but I felt like we passed on too many opportunities to put pucks on the net and then see what we could’ve done from there.”

Certainly, that sounds like an indictment of Marchand and Pastrnak passing up clean looks to shoot in the Stanley Cup Final. It also wasn’t a ringing endorsement of a search mission for the next great power forward, but there’s no getting around it as the element that’s feels missing when you look at the strengths and weaknesses among the B's top six.

A dynamic big body that can get to the front of the net, bang home loose pucks and win battles against big boy D-men was sorely lacking against the Blues. 

It feels funny to have to make the case to a former player such as Neely that the Bruins are one top-six power forward away from greatness, but here we are with the Black and Gold after falling a little short in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

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Blues' Ryan O'Reilly beats out Bruins' Patrice Bergeron for Selke Trophy

Blues' Ryan O'Reilly beats out Bruins' Patrice Bergeron for Selke Trophy

Once again, the Blues get the better of the Bruins.

Blues center Ryan O'Reilly earned the Frank J. Selke Trophy over Patrice Bergeron at Wednesday night's NHL Awards. It was O'Reilly's first time winning the award in his career.

O'Reilly has had a month to remember, of course leading St. Louis to a Stanley Cup victory over Boston and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process.

Bergeron finished third in the voting behind O'Reilly and Vegas Golden Knights winger Mark Stone.

On the bright side, B's fans did earn one victory over St. Louis on Wednesday night as general manager Don Sweeney earned NHL GM of the Year honors over Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

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