Game 7 experience going to be a difference-maker in win-or-go home setting

Game 7 experience going to be a difference-maker in win-or-go home setting

BOSTON – It’s a massive understatement to say the Bruins have both been there and done that before.

The Bruins have experience on their side headed into Wednesday night’s winner-take-all Game 7 at TD Garden against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. For some like Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron it’s both the experience of having won and lost the Stanley Cup in the Cup Final series.

“Someone has to win and someone has to lose. It’s the best thing in the world for the team that wins and it sucks for the team that loses. Being on both sides of it, you realize how hard it is and how shitty it is to lose,” said Brad Marchand. “It sticks with you forever. Winning and losing. You don’t forget everything that happens when you win and you definitely don’t forget what happens when you lose. Unfortunately, there are going to be both sides of that [in Game 7]. We’ll see how it plays out.”

The experience level is key for the Bruins, and has been a gigantic advantage for the Bruins over the Maple Leafs in the first round, and even more so against inexperienced Blue Jackets and Hurricanes in the latter rounds of the Eastern Conference bracket. Now it’s just as substantial as the Bruins prepare for the first Game 7 title game in Boston since all the way back in the heyday of Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics.

“Since I've got here from day one, I've said it, we’re very fortunate to have those guys,” said Bruce Cassidy of the B’s leadership group. “This is one of those times of year I'm extremely fortunate. Our leadership group has been there. They've been in a Game 7 before, in the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, the last one, they've lived it.

“Been in a Game 7 at home against Toronto this series. Stanley Cup is not at stake, but if you don't win it, you have no chance at it. I think there's a certain amount of pressure that our guys are used to having. In this situation, I think both teams like the pressure that's on them. Any team would trade the opportunity to be here, so I think we'll be okay.”

The Bruins will be a lot more than “okay” with their established Cup-winning core based on some of the occurrences in Game 6 in St. Louis that are trending the right way for Boston headed into Wednesday’s decisive contest. It was the Blues that finally looked like the moment was getting too oversized for them in the Cup Final. Jordan Binnington allowed soft goals and blew up for three goals allowed in the third period. Dependable veteran Ryan O’Reilly tossed a puck over the glass that gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 power play in the first period, and basically handed the Bruins an extremely important early lead in the elimination game.

Blues players like Roberto Bortuzzo lost their composure late in the game with nasty plays looking to make a statement about Game 7 after losing in their own building. In general, the Blues looked more tentative and less aggressive than they had in any game since Game 3 when Boston blew them out of their own building.

Meanwhile on the other side the B’s opportunistically picked St. Louis apart after the ultimate winner Patrice Bergeron (Stanley Cup, gold medals and World Cup gold) gave a pregame speech for the ages, and 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara played through a broken jaw in the perfect final chapter to a Hall of Fame, winning career.

That’s ultimately one of the two big advantages that the Black and Gold have over the Blues when it’s all counted at the end of the day.

The Bruins clearly have the goaltending advantage with Tuukka Rask sporting a .938 save percentage over the course of 23 playoff games headed into tonight, and a 5-0 record with a ridiculous .973 save percentage in elimination games. Rask has Stanley Cup Final experience and he has the hunger to avenge the 2013 Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks when he allowed a pair of goals in 17 seconds to basically fumble away that series.

But they also have everything going for them in terms of Stanley Cup Final experience whether it was shutting out Vancouver in Game 7 to secure their Cup in 2011, or falling short in 2013 against a dynastic Blackhawks bunch that was clearly better than the B’s during that series. When things get hairy as they most certainly will at some point during a decisive Game 7 in a series that’s been as nasty as Bruins/Blues, the poise and composure of the experienced team is a difference-making characteristic.

The Bruins aren’t going to beat themselves in the big moments on Wednesday night, and the moment won’t get bigger than them like it did during St. Louis’ golden chance to win the Cup on home ice last weekend.

It may not lead to the goals scored and it may not even come into play when the game-winning play comes down the pipe in Game 7, but one can be sure that the Bruins hold the ultimate trump over the Blues on Wednesday night having been there before. In a series where the differences are razor-thin between two clubs that have battled it out even in six Cup Final games, that’s a big, big deal headed into Game 7. 

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

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Bruins getting frustrated with shootout futility: 'Usually shootouts are 50/50, right now it feels like it's 20/80'

BOSTON – Boston, we have a problem.

One of the big bugaboos for the Black and Gold this entire season has been the shootout, and their complete futility at what’s essentially a skills challenge to determine a winner and loser in NHL regular season game. It cropped up again in Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at TD Garden where the Bruins let a one-goal lead slip away in the final minute of the third period and watched as another team waited them out in overtime and the shootout for the two points.

For the second straight time, Charlie Coyle finally scored a goal for the Bruins during the shootout making him the only effective player in that arena this season. And Jaroslav Halak kept them in it with some acrobatic saves in the extra session.

But in the end, the B’s best available players didn’t come through in the shootout session and the Bruins dropped to 0-4 this season when it comes to the shootout.

“I think so,” admitted Pastrnak, when asked if the shootout problems have become a bit of a mental issue at this point. “We know it hasn’t been our strength and we haven’t been able to pull a win out of the shootouts. It sucks obviously. Usually shootouts are 50/50, but for us right now it feels like it’s about 20/80.”

Or 0/100 actually at this point.

Part of the issue for the Bruins is their inability to beat teams in overtime and the other part is a complete inability to even be competitive in the shootout.

“In our group, now, at some point, the conversation becomes ‘do you sell out in overtime because we struggle in shootouts, right?’ But, at the end of the day, I thought we’ve made strides in overtime,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We lost a lot of [overtime games] early, at least we’re getting our opportunities to win in overtime, so we’d like to be able to close one of those out. But that’s a bit of the, maybe, what’s happened in the shootout, right?

“When you get in all alone [at the net on breakaway chances], we’re more of a volume team, even though we have high-end skill, it would seem in the short sample size. It’s now growing into a larger sample size, so it’s something we’re looking at. But we’re not going to overanalyze. Every day, it’s been so much time in practice [so] we [can’t] forget about the rest of the game that I feel is more important for us down the road, but we do need to address it. We have, but maybe we need a little bit more time on that.”

Part of the problem is that Boston’s goaltending becomes less than elite in the shootout, and it’s a noted area of the NHL game that Rask has never particularly liked, or felt comfortable with, during his NHL career. Halak gave the Bruins a fighting chance with diving saves in Saturday night’s loss, so that wasn’t the issue at all.

Instead it’s a Bruins team that’s 2-for-16 overall in the four losses in the shootout this season, and Boston’s big offensive guns in Marchand (0-for-4) and Pastrnak (0-for-3) are a combined 0-for-7 this season. Pastrnak is now 3-for-20 over his career with a very middling 15 percent success rate in the shootout, but Marchand is a bit better with nine goals in 41 career attempts for a 21.9 percent success rate.

Strangely enough, Patrice Bergeron is one of the most accomplished shootout guys on the Bruins roster with 28 goals in 89 attempts for a 28.1 percent success rate, but he was never tapped in any of Boston’s first three shootouts before being unavailable due to injury on Saturday.

The Bruins tried something different by giving fourth line winger Chris Wagner shootout attempts in each of the last couple of games after showing some decent moves within his breakaway chances.

But Wagner is 0-for-2 as well and at this point doesn’t really merit any more looks ahead of more offensively accomplished players on the Bruins roster.

So what can the Bruins do at this point given the shootout futility where their best players aren’t getting it done?

Part of it involves sticking with guys like Pastrnak and Marchand that have the goods to eventually succeed in the shootout, and part of it might be practicing it a little more often than the Bruins do in their hectic practice schedule during the regular season.

The other part?

It’s probably time to use some younger guys like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that don’t have a book on them already around the NHL when it comes to shootout tendencies, and perhaps grooming one of them to be a shootout specialist with a varying degree of moves. They may never be the shootout weapon that TJ Oshie is with his career success rate of over 50 percent in the shootout, but they might actually pick up the extra point once in a while.

That is something the Bruins aren’t doing right now and it’s already cost them four very valuable points this season.

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

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Talking Points from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals

Talking points from Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Capitals at TD Garden . . . 

GOLD STAR: The Bruins wouldn’t have even received a point in Saturday night’s game if it weren’t for the efforts of Jaroslav Halak. The B’s netminder stopped 42 shots and was brilliant from beginning to end against a Capitals team that outshot Boston nearly 2-to-1 through the course of the entire game. He stopped 17-of-18 in the first period when the Bruins didn’t have their legs under them, and would have stolen the game for Boston if Zdeno Chara could have cleared the zone ahead of T.J. Oshie’s game-tying in the final minute of the third period. He was just as good in the shootout, with diving stops that kept the Bruins in the extra session, and certainly deserved a better fate at the end of the day.


BLACK EYE: It’s time for Bruce Cassidy to stop over-thinking the shootout. He tried to use Chris Wagner based on a pretty good breakaway move he’s showed at times, and the thinking there was that perhaps an outside-the-box choice work create a shootout spark for the Bruins. Well, it has not, and instead Charlie Coyle is the only player that’s had success in the shootout this season for the Bruins, who are now 0-for-4 in shootout games. They need to go with a much more straight-ahead shootout philosophy, where they just get their best offensive guys out there quickly. That means having Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as two of your top three guys to start, and perhaps featuring Coyle more now that he’s enjoyed some success. One thing is certain: They need to do something differently, because whatever they’re doing right now isn’t working.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were hanging on by a thread while protecting the one-goal lead in the third period, and were outshot by an 11-6 margin by Washington while they put a ton of pressure on the Boston defense. Jaroslav Halak was up to the challenge for most of the period and the Bruins had a couple of chances to extend the lead, including a David Krejci redirect that went through Braden Holtby’s pads and trickled past the net, but the undermanned Bruins simply ran out of gas when it came to holding their slim lead. With the Bruins missing their best defender in Patrice Bergeron due to injury, T.J. Oshie scored the game-tying goal with a little less than a minute left to play with Sean Kuraly out on the ice with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. That’s not the ideal shutdown forward crew for the Bruins and it came back to bite them in the end.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak was one of the few Bruins playing with some energy throughout the game, and he scored what looked like was going to be the winning goal a few minutes into the second period. Pastrnak had a monster shift where he kicked things off for David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy to connect for a scoring chance, but McAvoy missed the open net with a one-timer shot from the slot. Pastrnak alertly picked up the puck and fired a bad angle shot for his 17th goal of the season. He was a key piece of offense with the Bruins missing so much of their firepower between Bergeron, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk. Pastrnak finished with the goal, 10 shot attempts and a couple of takeaways in 22:58 of ice time for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-for-4 – The Bruins’ record in the shootout this season. They continue to lose vital points in the glorified skills challenge, with only Coyle seemingly enjoying any success.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He was our best player by far. [It’s] disappointing that we couldn’t finish it because I thought our third period, we really bought into what we needed to compared to the Florida game, for example. We didn’t give up much at all [at the end of the game].” –Bruce Cassidy, on Halak and the improved third period for the Bruins, compared to their collapse against the Panthers a few days ago.

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