Usually, a team would be thrilled to have a stretch where virtually all its 5-on-5 offensive production comes from bottom-six forwards and defenseman. But this is the Stanley Cup final and unless Boston’s big guns start firing with consistency, the Bruins will be in trouble.
Boston’s top line prior to Game 2|Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images
ST. LOUIS – Under normal circumstances, a team would be thrilled to have a stretch where virtually all its 5-on-5 offensive production comes from bottom-six forwards and defenseman because that’s a really good thing to have. But this is the Stanley Cup final and unless Boston’s big guns start firing with consistency, the Bruins will be in trouble.
Much has been made of the struggles of the Bruins top line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak and rightfully so. But it’s actually been the Bruins top-six forwards who have failed to deliver so far. The second line of David Krejci between Jake DeBrusk and David Backes (and, occasionally other players) has been just as impotent.
They have to be better. All of them. And Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy is confident they will, particularly Bergeron’s line. “They know they need to be better, they’ve admitted it,” Cassidy said. “They’ll eventually get to their game. What’s prevented them from getting there? I think you have to credit the opposition. The two D-men (Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester) have long sticks and they’re mobile and smart. They’ve killed a lot of plays.”
But this is not unlike what this line sees on a nightly basis. Almost always, the Bergeron group sees the top checking lines and best shutdown pairs their opponents can put together. Their timing has been off and Marchand has been making some uncharacteristically bad giveaways in the offensive zone, then there was the egregious pass in the defensive zone by Pastrnak that led to an easy goal for the Blues in Game 1. Puck management is an issue with this group and it was pretty clear on Friday that Marchand was growing tired of hearing about the line’s struggles.
“It’s been pretty tight,” Marchand said. “A couple of breakdowns allowed them to score some goals. We’ve had opportunities and they’ve had opportunities. We need to tighten up a little bit. We’re not concerned as much as you guys want to talk about it. They’re a good team and we’re in the Stanley Cup final. You’re going to play a good team and we’re playing a good team and we expect it to be tight. It’s been tight and it’s been fun.”
There have been quiet spells for the Bergeron line in the past, but they have been few and far between. They went into the final having produced about 60 percent of the Bruins offense, so if they do get going and the bottom-six forwards continue to produce, the Bruins will be almost impossible to stop. There is a sense that the unit is ready to break out offensively. “There’s not too many times this year, either regular season or playoffs, where they’ve been quieted for long,” Cassidy said. “That’s why I believe they’ll have a better game. Whether they finish their plays or not, well they have a good goaltender and I’m sure he might have something to say about that.”
The Bruins unleashed 38 shots and were dominant in Game 1, but the sense is that they got way too cute in Game 2. A number of times they gave up good looks to pass the puck off. They ended the night with only 23 shots in the game and failed to hit double digits in any of the three periods. “I think we forced plays that we don’t typically do,” Cassidy said. “Give (the Blues) credit. They have good sticks. They played (Bergeron) tight and I don’t think we adjusted well enough to what was available. We’re going to see if we can get a little more movement to open up some seams. We forced way too many plays and as a result you’re doing wind sprints all night going back on pucks.”
The Bruins are sure to face a raucous crowd at the Enterprise Center for Game 3 from a fan base that has waited 49 years to see its team play in a Stanley Cup final. But there’s another reality here, too. If the home crowd is such an advantage, the Blues would be better than 5-5 at home in these playoffs. As much as fans think they have an effect on the game, it’s negligible at this level. Marchand said as much on Friday.
“Every arena has roughly the same (number) of people in it,” Marchand said. “In the NHL in the playoffs you expect it to be loud. We’re not overly concerned about the fans, we’re more concerned about the game. Players aren’t concerned about the fans. They’re concerned about playing the game on the ice. We don’t come in here and say we want to win so the fans don’t cheer. We want to win because we want to win.”
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