TORONTO – It took six games and their backs up against the wall for it to happen, but the Bruins finally looked like themselves in their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sure, the Bruins played like a pissed off hockey club in their physical, punishing Game 2 over Toronto and David Pastrnak went off offensively in Game 4 for the only time in the series, but the Bruins used a dominant team-wide effort to take a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena to extend the series.
Brad Marchand scored a pair of goals including an empty netter that iced things late in the third period, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk finally got involved offensively scoring their first goals of the series and the B’s power play cranked out a pair of scores in the definitive win. More importantly the Bruins controlled play for long stretches of time and impressively dragged themselves up off the canvas after the Leafs scored the first goal of the game.
It should bring the B’s some level of confidence going into a winner take all Game 7 that the Bruins have finally found their game after the Leafs looked like the better team for long stretches of the best-of-seven series.
“To me this is the best game we’ve played,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Game 2 we were very good, but I think it was more of an ornery response after not your typical Bruins Game 1 of the playoffs. We kind of knew we had to step up. Today was more the way we’ve wanted [to play]. We wanted to be aggressive, keep pucks alive with our D and that’s how you end up 10 shots from a defenseman.
“I thought we were attacking the net better. It was just more in line with our identity. We typically do have the shot advantage and we’re able to force teams to change while we regroup and attack. Obviously we’re desperate, but this is what we talked about with getting to our ceiling. As a coach you’re always looking for it, but today’s as close as we’ve done to that in a long time.”
The most obvious stat that stands out from the first five games is the shot clock with the Bruins finishing with 41 shots on net to just 24 total shots from a shut-down Maple Leafs bunch. It was midway through the second period when Toronto had just eight shots on net and were completely stifled by a Bruins attack that just kept coming and coming.
Certainly the Bruins top players were good with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak combining for 23 shot attempts to go along with Marchand’s two goals, and that’s always been a key in this series. But it was also about the power play going a perfect 2-for-2 in the first period when Boston needed some kind of offensive boost, and doing on Sunday afternoon what they couldn’t do in a disappointing Game 5 at TD Garden.
It was also about a bottom-6 group that gave Cassidy strong, consistent shifts with the fourth line enjoying their best game of the series as both Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari played physical, energetic hockey, and the new-look third line of Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle and Karson Kuhlman playing strong, fast hockey as well.
There were no passengers, no weak links and nobody in the lineup that didn’t seem up to the task of keeping up with the speedy, skilled Leafs attack. Some wondered if it was the right move to scratch David Backes and Chris Wagner headed into an elimination game where grit and experience are required, but clearly it was the right call to play the faster Joakim Nordstrom and Kuhlman based on the end result.
“We’ve got a lot of character in the group and we’ve shown that all year. We’ve come from behind a lot this year, weren’t fazed and played a really good game. So we should give ourselves some credit here,” said Marchand. “We played well. We gave ourselves another opportunity for another game. We’ll have to replicate [the Game 6 effort]. But the game is over, you let it go and you move onto the next one.”
So what’s the bottom line for the Bruins at this point?
The Black and Gold should feel pretty good headed home with a chance to close out the Maple Leafs in Game 7 after seemingly putting everything together at the back end of this playoff series. Maybe it’s simply about loosening the conservative approach a little bit, and not being quite so afraid of the Maple Leafs stinging them with line rushes and stretch passing.
That would explain why guys like DeBrusk and Krug were finally let loose offensively and the team as a whole was able to control the play against Toronto.
“We weren’t happy with the chances we got in Game 5 and we weren’t happy with our inability to push them back on their heels,” said Krug. “We needed to funnel pucks to the net, and force the goalie to control his rebounds or stop the puck. That bodes well for us. We just need to continue to do that and have the right mentality, and hope that’s a recipe for success in Game 7.”
But the Bruins have also been monumentally disappointing on home ice in this series with a couple of losses where the B’s managed just a single goal, and were vastly outplayed. That’s going to need to change on Tuesday night in Game 7 and the B’s are banking on it that they’ve figured out a formula for victory after a big Game 6 win.
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