TORONTO – After accounting for one 5-on-5 goal during the first three games of the playoff series against the Maple Leafs, one might be tempted to think about breaking up Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Certainly they were kept intact headed into the series vs. Toronto based on the offensive damage they inflicted in the recent past, like the five goals and 13 points Pastrnak piled up in last spring’s playoff series.
But this postseason series vs. the Leafs is proving different on a number of coinciding fronts. The Leafs are a year older, mature and battle-hardened to be sure, and the additions of Jake Muzzin and John Tavares have brought experienced, two-way players capable of checking Boston’s top line much more regularly.
Given those developments, it would make all kinds of sense to move Pastrnak down to the Krejci line in place of a mostly quiet Karson Kuhlman, and perhaps elevate Danton Heinen to the trio with No. 63 and No. 37. Perhaps that may happen as soon as midgame tomorrow night at Scotiabank Arena during Game 4, but Bruce Cassidy vowed to keep his top line together to kick things off in an important game down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
“Yes. It could change quickly. We met with them today and went over a few things and I think they recognize where they’ve left some offense on the table. It hasn’t been much of a line rush, offensive series,” said Cassidy. “It’s been a bit of a battle of two offensive lines playing good defensively where they can’t get it going offensively.
“They need to make more plays from below the goal line, protect pucks, and have more O-zone time. They’re so good reading off each other when it’s a shot/rebound, recovery and then separate and make a play. Most teams come back into their own zone, they have a plan, they practice it and they know where they’re going. Once the puck comes to the net all bets are off, and they’re so good if a team isn’t right on cue then they’ll make a play. I think we need to be a little more of that mentality of second-shot, second-chance opportunities that will break their defense down. If they can do that then I think you’ll see them getting more opportunities.”
Clearly there is a track record with the line given back-to-back 30 goal seasons for each of the three forwards, and given their track record against the Maple Leafs. But it’s also a little scary when you look at the postseason numbers: The Perfection Line has produced a grand total of one goal in the five playoff losses to the Leafs over the last two seasons, courtesy of NBC Sports Boston stats maven Dave Green.
When the #NHLBruins top line is playing well, they win. When they don't, they lose. Simple as that.— Dave Green (@DavidMGreen) April 16, 2019
The splits in wins vs. losses over their last 10 playoff games against the Maple Leafs are insane. pic.twitter.com/e0hmSRg05P
There’s a time when a head coach might be showing too much loyalty to certain players and certain combinations of players and that can cause stagnation for a hockey team when it gets to this point in the year.
It’s also dangerous to be that boom-or-bust with your top players considering that the Bruins are 5-5 in those 10 playoff games against Toronto over the last two seasons and there’s virtually no chance to win if those three are together and not producing.
Perhaps it’s time for Pastrnak to move elsewhere in the lineup and for Cassidy to shake things up with his forwards while forcing Mike Babcock to decide how he’s going to deploy the Tavares line and Jake Muzzin with a diversified attack. It's a way to put the Leafs on the defensive a little bit more as they've been largely dictating how the series has played out, match-ups and all, to this point.
If the head coach waits too long to do it then it might be too late in the series against a Toronto team that’s clearly better than last season, and — just like the B’s — knows how wide open the Eastern Conference might be with the Tampa Bay Lightning one game away from being eliminated altogether.
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