TORONTO – It’s time for the Bruins top line to start becoming a factor in this first round series after they were the dominant force for the B’s against the very same Maple Leafs bunch last postseason.
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have been far from that through three games this postseason against a clearly improved Toronto team that’s deploying John Tavares and shutdown D-man Jake Muzzin against them this time around. Bergeron is a minus-3 in three games with zero points during 5-on-5 play, Marchand has the only 5-on-5 goal for Boston in the series scored in a standout performance for him in the Game 2 win and Pastrnak is without a goal, and just one 5-on-5 point, in three games while also a minus-2 in the series.
That’s a far cry from the six goals and 13 points that Pastrnak piled up in last spring’s first-round seven-game series against the Leafs, and it speaks to a matchup that the NHL’s top line is having problems with to this point in the series. Bruce Cassidy remains optimistic that things will turn for them rather than him having to break up the line or try to play a harder match-up game, but their even-strength silence is becoming a concern through three games.
“It’s two lines going head-to-head, and at some point it’s going to tilt our way. That line is too good. They’re having a tougher time getting to the net, and as a result I think they’re trying really hard one-on-one to get there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think they need to use each other a little bit more to get there. [Maybe] get an old-fashioned goal whether it’s a center lane drive, a puck to the net or a second chance. They’re pretty determined guys.
“They’re going to find their way. But they’re against a very committed five-some right now that’s determined to keep them off the score sheet. That’s playoff hockey but I do believe a second-chance goal is in their future if they start funneling pucks more. You get some pucks to the net off the rush and it becomes D-zone sort-outs for them. They’re pretty good finding each other if [the defense] isn’t on time.”
Even more concerning is the fact that it’s now spilling over into the all-important power play as well with the Bruins' top PP unit looking out of sync and ineffective on a number of chances in Monday night’s 3-2 loss, and worse still Marchand and Bergeron getting tagged for a couple of power play goals against while out on the PK. All around, the Bruins' top players know they need to be better if the B’s are going to prevail in the series, and that’s entirely obvious when they don’t produce in a one-goal loss on the road.
“Bottom line it’s about being better and finding a way. They’re doing a good job [defensively], but it’s that type of game where you need to move your feet and disrupt them,” said Bergeron. “We can be better. That’s what the playoffs are all about. It’s about bringing the best and we need to do that. 5-on-5 we need to find ways to create more [offense]. It’s a good match-up, but it’s about competing, being your best and bringing the best out of your line.”
There are certainly a few things at play with the line slowing down offensively.
Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak are settling a little too much for shots and chances on the perimeter against a Leafs defense that’s showing some backbone, and in two of the three games Marchand has played the role of passer rather than finisher. The Little Ball of Hate finished with just one shot on net and two shot attempts overall in 21:20 of ice time in Game 3. Pastrnak didn’t get to the net with six of his nine shot attempts, and had a number of turnovers in the offensive zone eschewing hard, playoff hockey-type plays for the cute stuff that doesn’t fly in the postseason.
“It’s more on us. We’re getting a bit frustrated, but it’s a long series and we’re going to focus and regroup for the next game,” said Pastrnak. “We need to spend more time in the O-zone, try to hang onto the puck and don’t force things. We just need to take our time and the chances will come.”
As a line they need to be grittier and make adjustments to the level they’re operating at after possibly assuming it was going to once again be a show of offensive dominance against Toronto in this series. It now looks like the Leafs made the proper moves bringing in Tavares and Muzzin to check Boston’s advantage, and now it’s back on the Black and Gold to find their way through in a very much winnable series.
“I don’t think last year has anything to do with this year. Different teams and different years, so [last playoffs] doesn’t matter,” said Marchand. “We had a couple of chances, but you need to expect this. Nobody is going to walk over anybody right now, especially come playoff time. We’re not expecting to dominate out there, and I don’t think they’re expecting to dominate with any one line.
“They’re a really good team. We’re a really good team. We were only a couple of points apart in the standings, so it’s going to be tight games out there. That’s what we expect. We just need to take advantage of those opportunities when we do get them.”
Clearly it’s going to be a different series from the one where that Perfection Line threw out nine goals and a combined 30 points as they did in seven games at this time last spring. Toronto has proven that over three games while effectively bottling them up with John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman combined with the Muzzin pairing.
It’s time for those three B’s forwards to truly show their greatness, and fight through the match-up to find a way to provide offense for a Bruins team that clearly needs even strength help if they’re going to advance past the first round.
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