Jake DeBrusk

Bruins' scoreless second line has to 'have more of an attack mentality'

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Bruins' scoreless second line has to 'have more of an attack mentality'

BOSTON – It’s been well-documented that the Bruins top-6 forwards have struggled during five-on-five play in the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. None of the top six guys have any even-strength points in the series, and second-line center David Krejci has been completely shut out in the first four games of the series headed into Thursday night’s Game 5 against the Blues at TD Garden.

In fact, the two power-play assists for Jake DeBrusk ae the line’s only production in the series to this point and it’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed with the Bruins coaching staff.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed with the players on the Krejci line either.

“I think it goes to mindset. There are things they’re doing well and you’ve got to give them credit with how they play 5-on-5,” said DeBrusk. “But it’s also our mindset on the ice and thinking more about attacking the net, and doing the things that we need to do to generate [offense]. Obviously we’re focusing on that tonight.

“This time of year the margins are thin and things are amplified in each game. We’d like to get on the board. It’s about getting looks and making sure that we score on those.”

It didn’t look like there were going to be any big changes up front headed into Game 5 with both Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara both appearing like they are going to play for the Bruins.

So it will be up to DeBrusk, Krejci and David Backes to do something different than what’s played out in the first four games, and Bruce Cassidy hoped it would include a more aggressive, spread out plan of attack through the neutral zone.  

“They had a little bit of a session yesterday to try to kind of revisit why they were successful at times against Columbus or Toronto, previous opponents. How they get them to be more effective against how St. Louis plays also matters,” said Cassidy. “I think when they’re supporting the puck originally against St. Louis, because they’re long, they get there in a hurry, so you have to outnumber them in a hurry then.

“[You] try to spread out, not the opposite, that’s what we’ve found anyway. We can’t get too far. Our spacing has to be good, tight early, then start spacing once you separate to start making those east-west plays in the O-zone. I think just to have more of an attack mentality coming out through the neutral zone supporting one another and how to find common ground with each other.”

The hope that some meetings and some discussion changes something with the second line headed into Game 5. It’s all hands on deck and they need something from a player in Krejci who's always been a big game performer, and the rest of his line as well.  

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Bruins' second line 'needs to change the way they're playing' in Stanley Cup Final

Bruins' second line 'needs to change the way they're playing' in Stanley Cup Final

With the Stanley Cup Final down to a best-of-three, it’s time for all hands on deck. That means the Bruins need everybody on board and everybody playing to their maximum level, and that’s something they haven’t always had in the first four games of this series.

Certainly, the Bruins need to be better 5-on-5 if they’re going to ultimately win against the Blues, and that goes double for a second line that’s completely vanished in this physical, punishing series against a big, strong Blues group. Jake DeBrusk has a pair of power-play assists in the series, but the entire line has been completely shut down during even strength play with just 15 shots on net combined over the four games against the Blues.

To their credit, they’re not really getting scored on either when they hop over the boards, but more is expected from DeBrusk, Krejci and Backes than merely battling to a standstill against whomever they’re lined up across from.

“They’ve got to change the way they’re playing,” said Cassidy. “It hasn’t worked so far to generate offense. One thing if you generate offense night after night, doesn’t go in, but we don’t see that from that line yet. We did talk about it (after Game 4). We’re going to have to revisit it, sell some different ideas of how they can generate offense.

“I think it’s pretty simple with Jake, he has to play more on the inside right now. Use his speed, get inside. That’s when he starts to get going. He’s that type of kid that when he scores one, he’s streaky. When he gets that one, he may take off. Typically [Krejci] is very receptive, but he still likes to play his way. We’re going to have to be halfway on that, then go from there.”

Krejci had an alarming zero shots in net in the physical Game 4, and worse yet seemed to be shying away from physical contact as things got nastier in the Blues win on their home ice. It’s going to take a lot more than what No. 46 is giving right now considering he’d previously led the NHL field in scoring in each of the two most recent seasons that Boston made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Krejci seemed to acknowledge that it was time to step up following the Game 4 loss, and another invisible night for his line.

“Talk is cheap at this time of the year,” said Krejci. “We’ve just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and do the things that we talk about doing.”

It’s a good thing that Krejci is saying the right things at this point, but doing them is something else entirely. The Bruins sure could use the big game player from past playoff years, particularly if both Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk continue to be out of the lineup for the B’s moving forward.

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Bruins' young players getting a Stanley Cup education that will pay dividends for years

Bruins' young players getting a Stanley Cup education that will pay dividends for years

BOSTON – It’s been quite an education for young players like Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak as they’ve embarked on this first journey to the Stanley Cup Final with the Boston Bruins.

Pastrnak obviously has been through plenty already in his five NHL seasons and feels more like a veteran after starting off as the youngest guy in the league and turning into a star offensive player for the Black and Gold. But for any of the young Bruins players who have never been through the full two-month grind of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, seeing how Boston’s veteran core has handled its ups and downs has been an irreplaceable experience.

It’s something that they’re all aware of as they prepare for Monday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and reflect on some key turning points of these playoffs.

“You’re playing every second night for two months in an intense atmosphere," DeBrusk said. "These are intense games. You have to kind of learn to go through that. We had a taste last year with a couple of rounds, but now we’re in the final dance and that’s a little bit of a different animal.”

“When you have to keep that pace up for two months instead of two weeks it’s tough to prepare yourself for it. You take in stride and try to learn as much as you can. You don’t want to look big picture or anything like that, but for some of us it’s just the first go-round or the second go-round.

“You try to be a sponge. You see the veterans doing their work. There are lots of things you can learn on the ice, but off the ice as well where the [veterans'] leadership qualities really get amplified around this time of year. It’s cool to see and you just try to learn as much as possible. You reflect and think about why those guys have as much success as they do, and what has made them such good leaders.”

Whether it was before Game 6 of the first round when the Bruins held a come-to-Jesus meeting to get all of their players playing the right way, or after the first period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final in which they were outshot 20-6, the B’s veterans have provided invaluable leadership. The Bruins outnumber the Blues 68-4 in Stanley Cup Final games played with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and David Krejci all holding 13 Cup Final games played in their Bruins careers.

That is going to be a massive advantage over the Blues headed into Monday night, and it should continue to be something that will be a difference-maker between the two hockey clubs.

“I just believe that our guys that have been there, that have won a cup, have lost a cup, that should give us an edge,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Some people disagree with that once you're here, but I believe it will give us an edge. I think it's helped us a lot this week in the preparation, with all the down time, and hopefully going forward that is an advantage for us.”

Perhaps the best part of all of this, however, is the dividends it’s going to pay off for the Black and Gold over the years. The opportunity to win a Cup this early in their NHL careers is going to be the same formative experience for guys like DeBrusk, Carlo, McAvoy, Pastrnak, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and Matt Grzelcyk as it was for Marchand, Krejci, Milan Lucic and Adam McQuaid back in 2011 when they all under 25 years old. Torey Krug had a similar experience back in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final when they fell a little short.

Getting to watch veterans like Chara, Bergeron, Krejci and Marchand march unfazed through these playoffs has been a key developmental piece for the young guys, and could be a key ingredient turning them into winning players for the rest of their careers.

“During this time, [they’ve told us] to just not overthink things. You can get ahead of yourself and start thinking about all of the possibilities and whatnot,” said Carlo. “They’ve done a really good job of letting us take a little time away from hockey and regroup as individuals mentally. We look forward to the challenge of starting and getting more excited.”

These young Bruins players are going to be the ones taking the torch next with Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Chara, Tuukka Rask and others all on the other side of 30 years old, and that could be apparent as early as the next couple of weeks in the Cup Final. It’s certainly got them laser-focused and ready to go when the puck is dropped on Monday night.

“I’m soaking this up. I’m going through it for the first time," said McAvoy, who has a goal and seven points while averaging 24:20 of ice time in 16 games during these playoffs. "I was actually talking about it with [Bruins trainer] Donnie DelNegro and he was kind of making the joke, ‘Look at you. You’re just 21 years old and you’ve made it this far. You’re playing in the Stanley Cup Final at this age. For the rest of your career you’ll have this experience to look back on. Once you have these experiences you can go through anything as far as hockey goes.' 

“So I’m very fortunate to be where I am right now and I’m trying to make the most of it from a playing standpoint. I’m going to give it everything in the world that I’ve got. I’ve got nothing to save it all for.”

The Bruins are sitting at the perfect intersection of the older, proven veteran core still capable of playing at a level worthy of a Stanley Cup Final and the "young guns” emerging to the point where they can be big factors for the Black and Gold on a big stage against the Blues. This may be their best chance to win a Cup with a combination of aging core players and a young wave of talent, as injuries and age are becoming an increasingly real factor.

But it’s also the turning point we may all look back on when the Bruins' younger generation really began taking a firm grasp on the reins, and started leading them on another extended run of success and winning that’s led them to three Cup Final appearances in the last eight seasons.

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