BOSTON – Once again the Bruins' Perfection Line is off to a sluggish start at both ends of the ice in a playoff series.
This time it’s two games into the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues, and Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have just an empty net goal at the end of Game 1 to show for their efforts in the two biggest games of the year for Boston.
The Bruins' top trio was shut out again and scored upon in Boston’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Blues in Game 2 at TD Garden on Wednesday night, and even one play from Boston’s top offensive players could have been the difference in a one-goal loss. That’s something Marchand certainly understood after it was all over, and was taking accountability for while remaining positive that better things would be ahead for them.
“We need to be better. Personally, I wasn’t good the last two games so we can’t be playing like that,” admitted Marchand, who finished with nearly as many giveaways (four) as shot attempts (five) in a sloppy effort where he just wasn’t managing the puck very well at all. “It’s taking care of the little details. I think that’s the biggest thing. It will come. That’s how it is.
“I think that we can control the mistakes that are being made. But that’s hockey. They just competed. Hard. They won a lot of battles in our zone. They have a lot of good sticks, so they turn a lot of pucks over and created some offense off of that.”
Marchand’s empty net goal is the only point for the trio in the first two Final games against the Blues, and Marchand (-2), Bergeron (-2) and Pastrnak (-3) all have negative ratings through the first couple of games. Compare that with the top Blues line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, who have powered up for three goals thus far in the series, and combined for 19 shot attempts in Game 2 while dominating the all-important categories of puck possession and quality chances.
Some of it is clearly about rust after having not played in 11 days, where things like playmaking, passing and creating offensive plays can be the last things to come back when the rust has gathered. Marchand turned the puck over throughout Game 2, and that feeds into what the Blues want to do by attacking the Bruins in their own end. Certainly Pastrnak hasn’t been enough of an offensive presence in the first two games, and has been largely overshadowed by a player in Tarasenko whom he’s sometimes compared to based on their numbers and skill set.
Bergeron lost 8-of-13 draws for the Bruins, at times didn’t take face-offs when he was on the ice, and has looked at points like he’s playing through some kind of injury that’s hampered his ability to explosively skate among other things.
It’s also about playing simple, hard two-way hockey, and it’s about Marchand not busting his tail on the back-check on the second goal for the Blues when Charlie McAvoy was caught down low behind the Blues net. Or it’s about Pastrnak reversing the puck to absolutely nobody behind the Boston net in Game 1 that led to another Tarasenko goal with the Blues top players finding ways to do damage against the NHL’s best line.
“I don’t think we managed [the puck] well enough. I think we got spread out all over the ice. So, give them credit for being tighter than us and getting to pucks first,” said Bruce Cassidy. “As a result, we spent a lot of time in our end. That was self-inflicted. Some of it is how they play. They’ve done it to other teams. So give them credit for playing their game well.”
Those are the little details that the Perfection Line is usually all about, and right now they’re simply not anywhere close to perfect. They need to be better if the Bruins are going to win the Cup regardless of how much support the Bruins have received from their bottom-6 forwards, and they can’t continue to be outplayed by the top trio from St. Louis.
The good news is that the B’s top line was similarly kept quiet in the first few games in the first three rounds of the playoffs, and eventually figured things out as they pretty always do due to their elite hockey IQ, competitiveness and skill. They exploded in the clinching Game 4 of the conference final after being held down in the first three games, and there should be those kind of offensive uprisings for them in this playoff round as well.
The big, strong and rugged Blues showed in Game 2, though, that they’re not going to be overmatched like the Carolina Hurricanes were, and that they are not a candidate to be overwhelmed by Boston’s depth. That means the Bruins' top players need to start playing like it, and start living up to the Perfection Line mantra that’s become their widely accepted nickname during this postseason run.
Because right now Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak are the Mostly Mediocre Line, and that name doesn’t have any kind of Stanley Cup ring to it.
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