Haggerty: Here's what the Bruins have to do to win Game 7
Here are five things that the Bruins must in their Game 7 showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at TD Garden in order to pull out a win and advance to the second round of the playoffs:
1) Score the first goal
The starts are enormous in Game 7s, particularly when a team is enjoying the home-ice advantage. The team that scores first is 126-43 (.746) in Game 7s through the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Bruins could really begin to play downhill hockey if they can score a quick goal or two to get things going. Clearly, that isn’t always the case as the Bruins took Game 7 in 2013 against the Maple Leafs with their furious third-period comeback after falling behind (though it should be noted that Boston did score the first goal in that game thanks to Matt Bartkowski), but a strong, decisive start could really knock the wind out of a Toronto team that’s expended a lot of energy and effort the past couple of games just to remain alive in the series. An early power-play for the Bruins or a breakthrough for Boston’s top line after getting frustrated in the past two games would be an enormous momentum return for the Black and Gold after a couple of tough games to take.
2) Make Frederik Andersen uncomfortable
The Bruins haven’t done nearly enough tipping pucks, chasing after rebounds or crashing around the Toronto net in a series where the Toronto goalie has been a dominant presence in the first six games. We saw that Rick Nash/David Backes combo get some heavier traffic around the net in Game 6 when the two big bodies were playing on the same third line and they should do that on separate lines now that it looks like the forward group is returning to its default setting. Backes clocked Andersen with an elbow in the third period of Game 6 while keeping Andersen crowded at the top of his crease. That’s the kind of uncomfortable place Boston will need to put the Toronto netminder after playing brilliantly in the Leafs' three wins. Clearly, they aren’t going to be throwing elbows at Andersen and they shouldn’t be, but they should be crashing the net every chance they get and really bringing the traffic and the heavy pressure into Andersen's kitchen. It’s something they haven’t done nearly enough of.
3) The top line needs to drop the frustration and perk up the scoring
It’s going to be a problem in later playoff series for the Black and Gold, but they can get by the Maple Leafs simply by riding their top three forwards. That has turned into frustration as those three players have been held off the board in their past two games despite a boatload of chance, and an astonishing 18 shot attempts for David Pastrnak in the Game 5 loss at TD Garden. Toronto had their best defensive game of the series while blocking 21 shots and really frustrating Brad Marchand and Pastrnak in particular in the second half of Game 6 in Toronto. That line continues to get their shots, continues to get their chances and continues to be the most dominant factor in this series. They simply need to keep forging ahead and burying some of the chances while also working a little harder around the net to make that happen. Marchand is a guy who played around the net plenty in the regular season despite his clear size disadvantage, and he hasn’t done that nearly enough in this series. The Leafs see the one-timers coming from that line now and the three B's need to get back to basics and some blue-collar work to outmaneuver an average Toronto defense.
4) The power play needs to become a factor
The Bruins power play is now 1-for-9 in their past four games after producing a ton of offense in the first two games of the series. It really cooled down when the PP only had one chance in two road games in Toronto in the middle of the series. Even in Game 5, the power play was still moving the puck well and getting chances while getting one PP goal, but they managed just a 1-for-6 performance while frittering away a 5-on-3 chance to really put the game away. The top power-play unit looked a lot more disorganized and had a real lack of confident snap to their game in the Game 6 in Toronto, and it was the David Krejci power-play unit that actually had the better chances in that game. That needs to reverse itself in Game 7 and the Bruins need to revert to the PP that’s scored at a 35-percent clip since the beginning of March. They should be getting some chances in Game 7, where the goaltending and the special teams should really become big factors above and beyond the superstars on the ice. It would be a big moment in Game 7 for Patrice Bergeron if he can finally break through with a score from the bumper spot after going goalless in the five games he’s played in the series where he’s looked a little banged.
5) Tuukka Rask needs to exorcise the demons and big-game questions
The questions will continue until he comes up with a signature performance in a Game 7. Aside from Game 5 where he allowed a killer of a third goal to the Leafs and was eventually pulled, Rask has actually been pretty good in the series against Toronto and had the Bruins in position to win in Game 6 if the offense had provided a little more oomph. The .909 save percentage for Rask in the series is actually better than Andersen’s number as a whole in the series, but Rask is 2-4 in elimination games in his career. He's 1-2 with a .849 save percentage in three Game 7s in his career and needs to start having some “stand on his head” type performances if he wants to reverse that trend and start ending that conversation as a problem. Rask was brilliant in a big Game 4 win in Toronto with Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup and the Black and Gold need something like that with everything on the line on Wednesday night. If he can’t do it, then the talk is going to be that Rask was again outplayed by another goalie in the postseason.