Civian: The Bruins won’t blow Game 7 if the first line decides they won’t

Sara Civian
April 24, 2018 - 2:44 am

Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports

The concept of peaking early shouldn’t even exist. It’s just absurd to put a cap on a number of wins, and the idea that a team is due for a loss based on the fact that it has won X amount of times is a straight up fallacy.

Still, the Bruins’ start to this series was almost suspiciously strong.

David Pastrnak wasn’t going to break a Wayne Gretzky record every game. The clock ticked closer to midnight on his fairytale 6-point performance with every backhand attempt Frederik Andersen stoned after Game 2. By Game 6, Pastrnak’s one shot on goal might as well’ve been his glass slipper, though he'd prefer a glass top hat.

The fairytale isn’t expected every night, of course. His Game 2 performance compared to his Game 6 performance just happens to be a microcosm of his line as a whole.

Per usual, a Game 7 win starts there.

• Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Pastrnak have a combined 23 points in the Bruins’ three wins. Their collective plus/minus in those games is obviously good considering they were on the ice for those points, but it’s plus-20 if that drives this point home. They’ve scored 0 points in the three losses. That’s a collective minus-16. That is not good.

Other than Pastrnak’s Game 6 reality check, it’s not for lack of chances. Frederik Andersen is dialed in now. He and his 42-save, .933 sv% Game 5 and 32-save, .970 Game 6 performances are giving this first line trouble. Couple that with the drastic lineup changes Toronto coach Mike Babcock unleashed right before Game 5 -- Connor Brown on Auston Matthews’ right wing, Andreas Johnsson on Nazem Kadri’s left wing. Those were gutsy moves from Babcock that could’ve just as easily blown up in his face, but they also forced a Bruins defense bereft of Brandon Carlo to match up with, as Cassidy said, “four balanced lines.”

There’s nothing balanced about the Bruins lines, and that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing. Cassidy’s decision to keep the Bergeron line together earlier in the season was just as Big G Gutsy as Babcock’s Game 5 lineup, too. There’s no realistic chance in hell Cassidy is going to separate what’s been the best line in the NHL and what got the Bruins here in the first place. But this series went from 3-1 to 3-3 and the top line scored no points in the process.

If they can’t score -- and again, Cassidy isn’t going to touch them -- perhaps something more drastic needs to happen than swapping out a third-liner who doesn’t really score for another third-liner who doesn’t really score.

• Maybe the most drastic thing that comes to mind (that wouldn’t end in a dumpster fire) is doing nothing at all. Put Danton Heinen back in the line up, say an Our Father, and finish this thing out the way you started it. The Leafs have obviously improved as the series has gone on, but the Bruins didn’t just dominate the first two games with a bad lineup.

• If Cassidy is going for a top-heavy offense, why not put Rick Nash and David Krejci back together? Nash was acquired to be the winger Krejci so craved in Ryan Spooner, right? He was playing well next to Nash, and maximizing Krejci is more important to winning than a compilation of Nash’s failed scoring chances.

• Is the answer dressing Ryan Donato and trying to only unleash him at the end of tired Leafs’ shifts and/or power play situations? Who knows, but Babcock unleashed Matthews on a long Bruins’ shift and it sparked his first (and only) goal of the series. I still think exposing Donato to a high pressure playoff situation is bad for his long-term development, especially considering the small sample of his Game 2 performance. I stand by that take with a weird amount of passion. But it’s Game 7, the Bruins aren’t scoring on Andersen despite trying a frustrating array of things, and something new could throw Andersen off. Worth a shot if you’re not rolling the dice on the first line.

There just doesn’t seem to be a line combination that can fix the fact that the Bruins’ performance on any given night is generally a reflection of its first line. I even half-entertained the idea of using Torey Krug as a forward to generate chances (stupid, stupid, stupid) before tossing my hands up and admitting defeat to this fact.

The first line will just have to finish its chances.

• A passing glance at the Bruins’ defense these past two games is just one of several thousand reasons that Krug at forward is one of the worst ideas I’ve entertained this season. For the second consecutive year, the loss of Carlo in the playoffs is worse than we might’ve originally anticipated. It’s like, as DJ Bean tweeted, the Bruins spent so much time in their offensive zone that they forgot what to do on defense. Krug has been generally solid there despite a less-than-ideal Game 6, but there’s no reason to believe he’ll repeat a poor performance in Game 7.

What will fix this defense? Maybe not having a player who is clearly struggling through something lead the team in TOI is a start. Charlie McAvoy looked slightly better than he did in Game 5 on Monday, but still so far from the Top 5 NHL rookie that he actually is. He’d typically be all over Toronto’s stretch passes and the neutral zone, but reality is indicating that he’s not.

An attempt to spread out the workload is the next best thing. I’m not going to sit here and suggest that Adam McQuaid play McAvoy minutes, but what’s stopping Cassidy from giving Matt Grzelcyk an extra shift or two? Cassidy’s proved he’s not afraid to temporarily tweak some pairings on the fly.

• “Keep it simple” is perhaps the most annoying sports cliche of them all, but really: The Bruins will win if the players on the first line can solve Andersen. Maybe some of us like to dissect every third-line transaction because it makes us feel like there’s some magic, tangible solution Cassidy can apply. But when the top line scores, the Bruins tend to win. When the top line doesn’t score, the Bruins tend to lose. Not even Jake DeBrusk (3 goals, 1 assist)’s gigantic shift-by-shift efforts have been able to change that.

The Bruins won’t blow Game 7 if the first line decides they won’t.


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