Five changes the Bruins need to make to win Game 6
With the Bruins having their backs pushed up against the wall in Game 6 on Sunday night, it’s desperation time for the Black and Gold. Either they win again in the St. Louis barn known as the Enterprise Center and push it to a Game 7 next week at home in TD Garden, or they go home and waste a monumentally wide open chance to win a Cup where there didn’t seem to be one for most of the regular season.
But it’s also clear that some things need to change for the Bruins now that they’re down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, and in need of winning two straight games to advance just as they did in the first round vs. the Maple Leafs, and just as a few of these Bruins players did against Vancouver when they won their Stanley Cup back in 2011.
Here’s a few suggestions for the Bruins coaching staff as they look to make some adjustments and shake things up for a team that’s lost far too many battles to the St. Louis Blues over the last couple of games:
1. Move David Pastrnak off the top line and off the top power play unit
At this point the 22-year-old Pastrnak seems to really be shying away from the hard contact being thrown at him by the Blues and is a bit trigger-shy when it comes to shooting the puck. He’s got zero 5-on-5 points in the series and is a minus-5 in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues, and it seems like he’s having major issues getting pucks through to the net from his shooting position on the top power play unit. At this point it’s time to make some adjustments based on what isn’t working, and that should include dropping Pastrnak to the second line with David Krejci and sliding either Charlie Coyle or Marcus Johansson onto the top line. It will decimate the third line and probably won’t happen until things aren’t going well during the game, but the Bruins could use Coyle’s size, strength and toughness on that first line wing to get through some of the massive D-men that the Blues are throwing out there. On the power play it’s time to slide David Krejci into Pastrnak’s spot shooting from the face-off circle where he’s a double-threat to shoot and make plays with his passing. The Bruins need a tough, experienced and poised hand at this desperate time in the season, and the ultimate confidence is there that Krejci is going to make the plays when they are there with Boston’s season on the line.
2. Use the second power play unit more
If the Bruins decide to keep their power play units intact, then another suggestion would be to start a few PP possessions with the second unit rather than a first unit that’s not really functioning fully right now. Charlie Coyle and Charlie McAvoy have been among Boston’s best players in this entire postseason and giving them more power play time along with David Krejci could be a good thing. They have certainly come up big on the PP at points during this postseason and deserve to get a few looks rather than keep going to a first unit that’s been flat the last few games and has been staying on the ice for too long given that the results aren’t there. This has been keeping the second unit from getting any PP ice time at all, and that’s not really how things have gone for the B’s pretty much all season. Bruce Cassidy can switch that dynamic up by putting the second unit over the boards first and perhaps sparking his first unit by letting them watch for the first minute of their power play possessions in a Game 6 where they are bound to get a few calls.
3. Get to the net
The Bruins won’t have any more second chances and won’t be able to say “we’ll get them next time” if they can’t get this task done tonight. They need to fight through the big bodies among the St. Louis defense and they need to get to the loose pucks that Jordan Binnington has been leaving around the net. Brad Marchand has not been good in this Stanley Cup Final and there’s every chance that he’s playing through something, but he needs to find a way to get to the nasty areas for offense and chances. The same goes for Patrice Bergeron. David Pastrnak needs to take the hits, fight through the contact and get to areas of the ice where he can shoot the puck. The same goes for David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line as well. It’s easier said than done when guys like 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko and 6-foot-3 Alex Pietrangelo are doing a good job of protecting the St. Louis house, and big-bodied defensemen are really the only consistent way of slowing down a Perfection Line that isn’t anything special when it comes to size and strength. The Bruins best players need to go above and beyond to conquer that challenge on Sunday night and keep their Cup dream alive for one more game.
4. Put David Backes back into the lineup
Some may scoff at this based on Backes’ play at 35 years old when the wear and tear of playing every night certainly takes some of the juice out of his skating legs, and some of the bite out of his physical game. But Backes has sat for a few days now and should have some of that bounce and snarl back into his game after watching Game 5 from the sidelines, and he could have the same kind of positive impact in Game 6 that he had in both the Toronto series and in the Columbus series as well. It’s obviously all about whatever is going to help the Bruins win and get to the next game, but it would also be a crying shame if Backes ended perhaps his only chance at the Stanley Cup by sitting in the press box as a non-factor for the Black and Gold. Backes can be a positive impact player for the Black and Gold against a heavy, physical Blues team and he showed that at the beginning of the series, and he’s one of the few B’s forwards that can get to the front of the net when he wants to against the big, strong Blues back-enders. He should get that chance in Game 6 after sitting out Game 5, and watching the Bruins come up short in their efforts to win without him.
5. Do whatever it takes
The time for patience with players, lines and combinations is over, and the Bruins need to go with whatever is working best. Guys like Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson have been very good in this Stanley Cup Final, and should be liberally sprinkled into the top-6 if chances aren’t getting finished in the early going. It’s clear that the Bruins depth hasn’t been the advantage that they thought it might be against a Blues team that’s pretty well shut down Boston’s top two lines, and this longer series is starting to wear down the B’s based on the St. Louis physicality and heaviness leaning on them. The Bruins need to find ways to get their top-6 guys to break through and that means Bruce Cassidy tweaking and tinkering with things from the very get-go. Now isn’t the time to get stubborn and stick what hasn’t worked for most of the first five games in this series. It’s time to admit that the kitchen sink needs to be thrown at St. Louis and if that means breaking up a third line that’s been good to service the top two lines, then so be it. Coyle on the wing could be dynamite for one of those top two lines, and the game goes with a player in Johansson that hasn’t seemed rattled at all even when Ivan Barbashev tried to take him out with a head shot in Game 5 at the Garden. They deserve more ice time and in better spots where their playmaking and puck possession can turn into goals with Boston’s best players.