The Perfection Line has watched as two postseasons in a row have ended with their high-powered trio shut down offensively.
It happened last year in the Stanley Cup Final against a heavy, physical Blues group that beat up the Black and Gold and it happened two postseasons ago when the Tampa Bay Lightning squelched them offensively in the second round of the playoffs.
Well, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron served notice in Game 1 against the very same Lightning team that hockey history won’t be repeating itself.
The trio combined for five points and produced a beauty for the game-winning goal in the third period in a 3-2 win over the Lightning at the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Perfection Line combined for 11 shots on net and 22 shot attempts overall in the impressive victory and had more than a handful of scoring chances against a Tampa Bay defense that didn’t have a very good night. Pastrnak hit a couple of posts, the B’s top guys were making plays off offensive zone faceoff wins all night and they generally brought their best game to clearly make a statement in an important series against Tampa.
“They're good players, you know that, you've seen it. They don't quit on plays. [The] third goal is a great example of that, puck recovery on the power play for Pasta’s goal by everyone in the group, so real good job. Marchy hanging onto it on the first one, finding Brandon [Carlo], [Charlie] Coyle goes to the net, so a lot of good stuff out of those guys,” said Bruce Cassidy.
You typically aren't going to advance if your best players aren't your best players. The second period they weren't as strong on the puck as they were early on, but they got it back. And again, full value, [the Perfection Line] line carried us. I thought some other guys did their job as well, but just didn't get rewarded on the score sheet. But [a] nice start for that line.
Marchand brought his “A+” game as he won battles in all zones, took hits and hung onto the puck to make plays including Boston’s first goal when he kept things alive as the B’s were changing lines and ultimately assisted on a Charlie Coyle tipped puck at the net. Then it was the high-powered trio on the power play with red-hot David Krejci finding a cross-ice passing seam to feed Pastrnak for a one-timer blast that made it a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Finally, the capper showed off the Perfection Line’s skill, their chemistry and — most importantly — the second-effort and two-way play that separates them from every other top NHL scoring line in the league. Once again, Marchand took a hit behind the net to keep a play alive in the offensive zone and Bergeron followed by lifting Ryan McDonagh’s stick at the Tampa Bay net and stealing the puck away from the top Lightning D-man.
It was a mini-highlight reel play of exactly why Bergeron has been named a Selke Trophy finalist for an NHL-record nine consecutive seasons, and another brilliant two-way play in what’s inarguably a Hall of Fame career when No. 37 decides to hang it up someday years from now.
“The way [Bergeron] reads the game and his stick positioning and his ability to read plays, there’s just very few guys in the league that have that ability on the defensive side of things. Lots of guys are good offensively and can cheat and pick pucks off. He does it from a defensive standpoint,” said Marchand of his longtime linemate. “He creates so many opportunities out of our zone, through the neutral zone and on the forecheck, the way he did where he’s picking pucks and lifting sticks. Just his back pressure is incredible. That goal was all him, his forechecking there, a great read. That’s why he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”
After creating the turnover, Bergeron quickly shuffled the puck to Pastrnak and the B’s game-breaking scorer flipped a backhanded saucer pass to the far post where Marchand was cocked and ready to blast it past Andrei Vasilevskiy for the game-winner. Everybody on the B’s top line touched the puck before the goal and it showed each one of them doing what they do best.
It’s the kind of play that the Perfection Line needs to make to be effective as a top line in a highly competitive series, and it’s a lesson to hockey players of all kinds on the importance of sticking with a play as all three forwards did before ultimately turning it into a scoring play.
“That’s just a guy staying [on the battle]. When our offensive players are doing that, we're going to be hard to stop because they can finish some plays. What I'm learning in this league is it's a second-effort league. There’s very few guys that are that good that [they] don't need second effort on pucks. I think our guys do it very well, our top guys, and now it's bleeding into the middle guys to understand that,” said Cassidy. “Hopefully the young guys that are here watching. But that's what it takes in this league. You know you’ve got a guy like Jack [Studnicka] who's played a few games and watched, [Trent] Frederic was here, Bjorkie’s first playoff… nothing comes easy. It's a good education for them, and obviously we need to win while we're doing it.”
Now it comes down to consistency and repeating that performance against the Lightning in a second-round series that isn’t going to be as easy for Boston as it seemed to be in Game 1. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were productive in Game 1 of the playoff series against Tampa Bay a couple of years ago as well, and then the Lightning tightened the defensive screws and effectively ended the series by holding down the trio.
The B’s top line served notice in Game 1 that they won’t be stopped this time around, but they need to keep doing it a few more times before it becomes a proven fact against the Lightning.