Kalman: DeBrusk must be next Bruin to get going offensively

Matt Kalman
April 18, 2019 - 4:57 pm

Now that David Pastrnak woke up and scored his first two goals of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference first round against Toronto in a 6-4 Game 4 win on Wednesday, it’s time for another young forward to come out of his scoring slumber.

Jake DeBrusk has now gone four games without a goal, and in the Game 4 win he landed just one shot on net.

Heading into Game 5 of thebest-of-7 series that's tied 2-2 on Friday at TD Garden, coach Bruce Cassidy is hoping DeBrusk doesn’t start to overthink his slump, which actually extends to six games when you consider he didn’t score in his last two games of the regular season.

“So keep doing the little things and his time will come, because I know sometimes those guys look at their numbers and they get caught up in it,” Cassidy said Thursday. “I don’t believe he’s there; we just want to make sure he’s not going there.”

The best way to avoid getting too “caught up in it” is to pay the price to get to the net, make quick plays around the net and, eventually, score so that the slump doesn’t become a sore spot on the Bruins’ ledger or even accelerate the Bruins’ exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Coming off a 27-goal sophomore season in the NHL, DeBrusk is as vital to the Bruins’ fortunes as center David Krejci or any member of their top line. His series got off to the same rocky start as most of his teammates’ in a lackluster Game 1 loss, but in Game 2 he was the catalyst. He got under Nazem Kadri’s skin, he threw four hits and he had four shots on net. He earned the status as one of Toronto’s most-hated Bruins, worthy of the type of fan booing that’s usually reserved for Zdeno Chara or Brad Marchand.

Perhaps all that rough stuff took its toll on DeBrusk. He was a game-time decision before playing in Game 2 because of several hits he took in Game 1. Then he played with reckless abandon in Game 2 to get the Bruins even.

In Toronto he had four shots on net in Game 3 before his quieter Game 4. His physical play dropped off with one hit in Game 4 after he threw a no-hitter in Game 3. Since the cross check to the face from Kadri at the end of Game 2, DeBrusk has looked less aggressive with his body, a bit tentative on the forecheck and maybe even a little slower getting his feet moving with or without the puck on the attack. One hopes that this is more a mental issue than a physical one because playing through something that’s hampering him isn’t going to help him heal in the every-other-day schedule of the playoffs.

If it’s mental, it’s understandable considering he’s still just 22 and, as he admitted before Game 3, he’s never been “enemy No. 1” before. It can take some adjusting when the fans direct a large percentage of their venom at you specifically, and the Maple Leafs are probably targeting him on the ice as well. If he’s less than 100 percent physically, that could also help Toronto get on top of him, putting more stress on him to find alternate ways to be effective rather than his usual straight-line speed game.

But there’s little time to learn these lessons when teams are two games from elimination. DeBrusk proved last year he could thrive at playoff time, as he had five goals in the seven-game first-round win against Toronto. He capped that performance with two goals in the decisive victory.

The Bruins have gotten this far without a significant offensive contribution from DeBrusk because Marchand leads the team with six points, Krejci and Charlie Coyle have been their two most consistent forwards at both ends, and they got two important goals from defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara in Game 4.

Depth can carry the Bruins past the Maple Leafs, but on any given night you never know who’s going to be at their best. Pastrnak joined the party in Game 4; it’s time for DeBrusk to do the same starting with Game 5.

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