Nazem Kadri

Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

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Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

TORONTO – The Bruins have scored less than three goals exactly once in their playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Offense really hasn’t been an issue against a Toronto team that can’t consistently stop the Black and Gold. No, it’s much more about defense and slowing down the Maple Leafs while keeping preventable goals out of the back of their net. 

Some of it is about effectively cutting down the transition, stretch passes that Toronto likes to use to kick-start their offense, and that’s about minimizing the risk-taking offensively while also taking care not to allow leaking, sneaking opponents behind their defense. Some of it is just about good, fundamental defense as the Bruins simply didn’t play 2-on-2 situations very well on rushes from the Toronto forwards in their Game 5 loss at TD Garden. 

All of it is about holding players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri in check as the Bruins have done for long stretches of the series with a steady diet of Zdeno Chara greeting the Leafs franchise center wherever he goes.

“In games like that we have to be a little better defensively,” said Brad Marchand, referring to Game 5’s defeat where they scored three goals. “We can’t expect to score five goals every game, so we can’t be giving up four [goals]. If we’re a little bit better there and continue to pepper away with the shots, hopefully things will work in our favor.”

Bruce Cassidy went through each of the first three goals allowed by the Bruins in their Game 5 loss last weekend, and each of them needed better “rush defense” executed by the Bruins. The first was a simple one-man rush into the zone by Matthews, the second was Andreas Johnsson getting behind the Bruins defense before connecting with Kadri on a perfect pass, and the third was a backbreaking Tyler Bozak score from the slot after the Bruins had just scored and grabbed momentum in the game. All of them arrived via Toronto’s speed and aggressive mindset entering the offensive zone, and that’s something Boston has stifled to a much more effective degree until Saturday night.  

“They make a play up the wall where we’re normally there to contest that, slide and have the appropriate adjustment between the forward and the ‘D.’ We didn’t slide until the rush. That will be addressed and was addressed. That’s what we need to do against Toronto when we have the numbers and we didn’t do it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Then they won a puck at the net where we’re generally good there, but they got it to the net. Give them credit, they got it there. They got it to the net and won a battle by going to the dirty areas. 

“The second goal was a 2-on-2 and a good play, but still a 2-on-2. We need to defend it better from our end. From their end, it’s a nice play. The third goal was a quick up, we were a little late trying to kill it. … We were a little late in every area, we needed a save there and we didn’t get it. So those are the three goals I look at, and I look at the rush defense that could have been better.”

Given that the Bruins have scored 20 goals in the five playoff games vs. Toronto and hit the 40 shots on net three different times in the best-of-seven series, it’s about holding the Leafs down a little more effectively as they’ve done in their three wins. If the Bruins can play sound defense and once again slow down the Maple Leafs track meet on the ice, then it’s highly doubtful this series will be going back to Boston for a Game 7. 


Haggerty: Marchand in perfect spot with his game and goofy antics

Haggerty: Marchand in perfect spot with his game and goofy antics

BOSTON - Could it be that Brad Marchand has finally made that final step of development toward being a fully realized NHL superstar?

Marchand has long possessed the toughest part, the elite-level offensive ability and inner makeup that allows him to consistently dominate in the NHL. He has the numbers to back it up with more goals scored in the NHL the past three seasons than anybody not named Alex Ovechkin. He’s also got it with a couple of All-Star designations and mentions in the Hart Trophy conversation in the past two seasons while being a point-per-game player. The Bruins left winger has also refined his ability to pass the puck given all the defensive attention paid to him, and this season he’s been a certified overtime weapon with five game-winners for the Black and Gold in the extra session.

Despite all those unmistakable signs of greatness, however, there were still a few areas that have eluded the Nose Face Killah from being a finished product.

Marchand entered the playoffs with one goal in his previous 18 playoff games and zero goals in his past 16 home playoff games, so he hadn’t effectively translated his regular-season game into the postseason. That was a significant problem for Marchand, who has become a Black and Gold pillar relied upon by the B's.

It also didn’t take into account some of the agitating actions that backfired on Marchand in the postseason the past few years, whether it was spraying ice chips into Carey Price’s face, limping on the wrong foot trying to embellish for a call against the Red Wings or simply trying to be a good little Marchand, and not being engaged enough in a quiet series last spring against the Ottawa Senators.

All of that seems to be a thing of the past, though.

It would seem that Marchand has finally found the range this postseason and he showed in Boston’s Game 1 win he could toe the delicate, balanced line between NHL star, in-your-face agitator and ultimately winning playoff hockey player. He scored the game’s first goal against the Leafs on Thursday night with a roofed backhanded finish in tight, and he did his whirling dervish thing in the corner to torture Kasperi Kapanen before dishing to David Pastrnak for the back-breaking insurance goal at the end of the second period.

Marchand was completely in control, dominant in the offensive end along with the rest of his line and looked every bit the game-breaking player he’s become in the regular season.

“I thought [Marchand] was excellent. He’s going to be a guy that teams are going to circle, because he’s an elite player,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “In the past, you’ve been able to get him off his game at times. The good players that play with passion, you see that with a lot of them. How quickly can you get it back, and where do you keep your discipline not to hurt your team?

“I thought he did a real good job with that [in Game 1]. I’m sure he’ll get tested again Saturday, but that’s what Marchy’s up against. You want to be a good player, you better be prepared for extra attention. He’s not the only one of our guys, just like they’ve got some guys over there that we want to make it hard for them to earn their ice. That’s hockey in general, but it’s even more magnified this time of the year.”

So not only was Marchand keeping his head and not feeding into Toronto’s poking and prodding with ill-timed penalties, but he was playing mind games right back with the Leafs. The B’s left winger continued his bizarre rivalry with hard-hitting Toronto winger Leo Komarov and opted in the second period to nuzzle his trademark nose into his opponent’s neck while appearing to lick the Toronto player. This came after a regular-season meeting back in January where Marchand gave Komarov a big kiss on the cheek when he tried to get into No. 63’s face.

Just call him the Little Ball of Hugs from this point moving forward, apparently.

Cassidy called it “goofy” after Friday morning’s practice and Komarov doesn’t seem to like it very much, and that’s exactly why Marchand keeps doing it while staying on the right side of the discipline line in the sand.

“I thought he wanted to cuddle, so I was just trying to get close to him,” said Marchand, with a giant smirk on his face. “He kept coming after me after whistles. I thought if he kept touching me we were going to get a little closer than maybe he would want to.”

Perhaps the NHL will come up with some unsportsmanlike conduct penalty where you can’t kiss, nuzzle or lick unsuspecting opponents, but for right now Marchand is going right up to the line for agitating and provoking without stepping over it. He’s not throwing head shots and he’s not slew-footing or tripping players while targeting their bottom-halves, and he’s at least temporarily toeing the line while gaining an edge. It’s something that Cassidy approves of behind the B’s bench as long as it A) effectively gets Marchand into the game emotionally and B) doesn’t hurt the team at a time of year when discipline mistakes can be critical ones.

“Sometimes I think he’s a little goofy. But I don’t mind goofy. It’s just part of [Marchand’s] personality. It’s when it starts going the other way that it’s tough. If it keeps him on course then it’s great, but if we start to see the other types of behavior then as a coach I try to recognize it and help pull him back in,” said Cassidy. “I’m not sure if other guy likes it very much, but in terms of the league and the big picture, you laugh it off and move on.”

The trick now for Marchand and the Bruins is to keep the B’s pest right in the same good place he was in for Game 1 while moving forward, and keep fresh the reminder of where it can go wrong after watching Nazem Kadri completely lose control in the very same playoff game.


Wingels a game-time decision, Donato steps in if he's out

Wingels a game-time decision, Donato steps in if he's out

BRIGHTON, Mass – Tommy Wingels was on the ice for the Bruins at Saturday morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to Game 2 of the first-round series against the Maple Leafs and is still “questionable” for tonight after getting boarded by Nazem Kadri in the opener Thursday night.

It’s expected that Ryan Donato will draw in for the Black and Gold if Wingels isn’t ready to go and man the left wing on the third line along with Noel Acciari and David Backes.

That would drop Danton Heinen down to the fourth line with Tim Schaller and Sean Kuraly and give the Bruins more of a youthful, offense-heavy look rather than the more physical, gritty group that had success in Game 1. Wingels was pleased with the decision of a three-game suspension for Kadri after the Leafs forward launched into his head as Wingels was on his knees against the side boards, but was also ready to put it in the rear-view mirror.

"I didn't like the hit. I thought I was in a vulnerable spot,” said Wingels. “As a game, as a league and as players, that's the stuff we don't want in our game. It was handled, league did a great job and now it's in the past"

Donato was obviously excited about the prospect of getting into his first Stanley Cup playoff game. 

“Obviously, it was disappointing not being able to go [in Game 1], but you get a little bit of rest and I got some exposure to the playoff atmosphere watching that game," Donato said. "Hopefully I can use some of those lessons that I learned for tonight. My biggest focus is having the most impact that I can for the team. There are a lot of guys that can score goals and there are a lot of guys that can be consistent, and I want to be one of those guys that’s consistent and contributes offensively as well.”

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings for Game 2 based on the optional morning skate: