Kalman: Bergeron Line in danger of forcing a breakup

Matt Kalman
April 16, 2019 - 12:13 am

Even Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews couldn’t help but heap praise on the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak in between Game 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference first round last week.

Although the Maple Leafs had kept that line at bay in Game 1 during 5-on-5 play, Matthews classified Bergeron’s line as the “No. 1 line in the league” this year.

The Maple Leafs star was echoing what every member of the Bruins organization and every Bruins fan already believed. Now if that line could just play up to its hype, they might get to stick together for the long haul lead the Bruins’ comeback in this best-of-7 series.

Bergeron’s line was completely shut down again, and limited to seven shots on net, in Boston’s 3-2 loss in Game 3 at Toronto on Monday. The Bruins now trail the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Toronto on Wednesday.

Marchand’s goal in Game 2 is the only 5-on-5 score by his trio in this series. And unless something changes soon, coach Bruce Cassidy will have no choice but to break up his prized line.

Toronto coach Mike Babcock had John Tavares’ line with wings Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, and the defense pair of Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev, draped on Boston’s first line all night, and Cassidy tried to give Pastrnak spot duty on other lines. The right wing still played more than 70 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes with Bergeron and Marchand.

“I thought we did a good job against them, they’re an offensive line as well,” Cassidy told the media in Toronto. “Tavares had 47 goals, Marner’s a 100-point guy, whatever he is. And Hyman chips in, so we’ve got to be careful to keep them off the score sheet too.

“I don’t know if you’re always in a hurry to get away from something that’s kind of a see-saw battle, we have to rely on our other depth guys to score, we got that in Game 2. Tonight we got a good goal from [David Krejci>, but if we feel that it’s really an impediment of us having success, then we’re going to get away from it and break up the line.”

Pastrnak came into this series having owned the Maple Leafs in his career with 32 points in 22 games, regular-season playoff games combined. He has no goals through three games, and he landed just one shot on net through the last two periods of Game 3. With time running down in regulation and down a goal, Pastrnak had no choice but to fire away, and Marner blocked the Boston sniper’s last two attempts leading up to the final horn. Obviously there wasn’t time for Pastrnak to do much more in that situation, but those attempts were a microcosm of how he and his whole line played the whole night.

They’ve gotten away from playing with the synergy that made them so successful during the regular season. They’re passing when they should shoot, shooting when they should pass and never really attempting any set plays. The Maple Leafs are mucking up the works, but the Bergeron Line has to bear down, not just to get better scoring chances but to gain possession, as Bergeron (with his wingers as much to blame) actually lost 13 faceoffs and won just 12.

If Cassidy, the line-tweak master in the regular season, decides to break up his first line, the fix is pretty easy even if it’s not guaranteed to work. Pastrnak moves to David Krejci’s right, Danton Heinen jumps to the first line and Karson Kuhlman drops into the bottom six.

Although Cassidy didn’t sound committed to a lineup shuffle before Game 4, he’s going to have to make changes one way or the other. If the plan is to have Bergeron’s line continue to play Tavares’ line even, then Cassidy has to find more offense from the nine other forwards. Kuhlman assisted on Krejci’s goal and has been strong on the forecheck, but a better finisher like Marcus Johansson (if he’s healthy) might fit better on the second line. Heinen could also be an option for the second line, although his chemistry with Charlie Coyle seems to be coming along. Coyle’s been the Bruins’ best forward in this series, and maybe it’s time to free him of some responsibility, move him to Krejci’s right and just piece together a third line with the left-over forwards (Cassidy essentially rolled just three lines in the third period Monday anyway).

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak are the Hanson Bros. of skill, no one does what they do best better. They have a familial fondness for each other that makes them defensive in the face of criticism and they share a stubbornness that makes them never want to break up. It’s time for that obstinateness to turn to production before Cassidy has to make line alterations or the Maple Leafs put a stranglehold on this series.

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