BOSTON – Just as it’s been all season and since Sean Kuraly jumped back into the lineup for the fourth line during the first-round series against the Maple Leafs, the fourth line continues to be a driving force for the Bruins.
It’s helped the Bruins overwhelm opponents with their depth and it happened again in Monday night’s Game 1 as the fourth line powered a couple even-strength goals and locked down St. Louis’ top line in a 4-2 win for the B’s at TD Garden. Per usual, Kuraly was in the middle of it all with a couple of points and a game-winning goal that was all about winning battles around the net before Kuraly pushed one past Joel Edmunsson at the front of the Blues crease.
The big offense night gives Kuraly three goals and seven points in 14 playoff games and continues his “Big Game Kuraly” reputation of showing up in the clutch moments when it matters most during the postseason. The fact that Noel Acciari was a one-man wrecking ball while throwing Jaden Schwartz over the boards and onto the Bruins bench was just an added bonus (all that before crunching Alex Steen after he clobbered Charlie McAvoy in the corner) with the fourth line roughing up the Blues' best players as well.
The B’s fourth line does north-south hockey very well, and that was exactly what was needed on Monday night against a rugged Blues bunch.
“This is what they do. They possess pucks, they can skate, they play simple hockey and I think against St. Louis if you play north, especially for us being off as long as we were, we had to not get drawn into the fancy stuff, the east-west stuff, stuff that you’re doing in practice because you don’t have the competitive edge. It showed on the second goal, we just mismanaged the puck, even the first one we got a little loose so at the end of the day they are always going to play a straight line game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Sometimes they get rewarded and sometimes they don’t but they always play the same way. That’s what they did tonight. They got rewarded by going to the net, they’re always good defensively and Noel will add the physicality.
“Going back to the previous question, we made the switch, we need to be a little more physical against that line and I thought they were able to deliver on that too.”
Cassidy reserved the right to change his strategy for Wednesday and Game 2 based on what he saw during the opening Stanley Cup Final game, and what his Perfection Line is capable of bringing later on in the series. But it’s hard to argue with a Bruins group that outshot the Blues by a 30-12 margin over the final 40 minutes of the game, and brought plenty of physical thump against a big, strong Blues roster that’s played some pretty dominant hockey along the way in their playoff run.
It’s also tough to argue with a fourth line that essentially punched the best Blues forwards right in the mouth, holding them down defensively while scoring a couple of goals amidst their big assignment as well.
“One of the strengths of this team is that we have four lines that can produce at any given time on any given night,” said Marcus Johansson, who also had a strong game for the Bruins. “What better time to do it than tonight? It’s not just they [the fourth line] scored the goals, I think they led the group to take the game over in to being more physical and I think that is what won us the game.”
The first goal was a big one for the Bruins, with it coming as an answer just 1:16 after the Blues had made it a 2-0, and it was Kuraly breaking into the offensive zone with speed before spotting rookie D-man Connor Clifton breaking to the net. Clifton was able to throw a sand wedge lob shot on the puck and got it to float over rookie netminder Jordan Binnington for the first goal that gave the Bruins life in a 2-1 game.
They really had it going on by the time they scored the game-winner in the third period with a hard fore-check and both Acciari and Kuraly going to work down low on the St. Louis defense before an Acciari net-front dish was popped home by Kuraly. It was good, old-fashioned blue collar hockey from the B’s lunch-pail trio and it was an appropriate score to decide a game that was about much more than the fancy stuff.
“I think we’re just trying to play as hard as we can, and the role or whatever it is, is something I think that maybe other people talk about or whatever. We’re just trying to play good and play as hard as we can. We’ve got a lot of good players on the team, so it’s kind of where we’re put in the lineup,” said Kuraly. “We just want to do the best that we can for the team. We’ve got a heck of a team in there, and a lot of guys that have been around for a while, so we’re just trying to do the best that we can and wherever they want to put us is all good.”
The Bruins depth was a massive part of what got them over the Leafs in the first round, and helped them get over the hump in the second round against Columbus. Boston’s depth overwhelmed the Hurricanes in the conference final when the third and fourth lines did nearly all the damage for the Black and Gold, and that was the very same case against a deep, talented and hard-to-play against Blues bunch in Game 1.
St. Louis will get every chance to show the Game 1 loss was an outlier when the two teams line up to face each other again on Wednesday night in Game 2, but if it wasn’t, then the Blues are going to fall under the weight of Boston’s depth just like everybody else in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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