McLaughlin: Will somebody else please step up for Bruins

Scott McLaughlin
May 03, 2018 - 1:07 am

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

The Bruins are blessed with arguably the best first line in the NHL, but it takes more than that to make a deep playoff run. That is quickly becoming apparent as the B’s struggle to keep pace with the Lightning and now find themselves in a 2-1 series hole.

That’s not to say that the Bruins’ top line has been great all the time and the other three lines have stunk all the time in this series. The Patrice Bergeron line has had a couple quiet stretches. Brad Marchand took a bad slashing penalty Wednesday night. David Pastrnak oddly didn’t have a single shot on goal. 

But ultimately that line has been on the ice for the Bruins’ only three goals the last two games, and seven of their nine goals in the series. On the list of the Bruins’ issues right now, they’re at the bottom.

The second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Rick Nash has had chances, and they converted in the Game 1 win with two goals from Nash and an empty-netter from DeBrusk. But converting on those chances in one out of three games isn’t going to cut it in a short series against a team as good as the Lightning. 

Nash had six shots on goal and the line had 10 Wednesday night, which normally would be an encouraging sign, especially since most of those chances came against Tampa Bay’s top two lines. But Krejci and Nash -- especially Nash -- have made a habit of not finishing their chances this postseason (and in Nash's case, in other postseasons too), and at a certain point taking a bunch of shots stops being a silver lining and not scoring on those shots becomes a reason you could find your season on the brink.

Then there’s the Bruins’ bottom six. Not only are these guys not scoring, but they’re not getting chances or defending well either. Three members of that bottom six -- Danton Heinen, David Backes and Sean Kuraly -- had zero shots on goal in Game 3. The other three members -- Riley Nash, Tommy Wingels and Noel Acciari -- combined for four.

This isn’t new. The bottom six combined for just three shots on goal in Game 2. Both lines have spent a lot of time hemmed in their own zone and each was on the ice for a Tampa Bay goal Wednesday. Bruce Cassidy made one swap in Game 3 by bringing Wingels in for Tim Schaller on the fourth line, but that clearly didn’t change a whole lot. Cassidy acknowledged after Game 3 that he is concerned about the third line’s play, and it’s hard to imagine he’d trot out Heinen-Nash-Backes again in Game 4. 

They’re not getting it done, and sticking with it for one more game could be one game too many if there’s not a drastic change in their play. Perhaps it’s finally time to bring Ryan Donato back into the lineup and hope he can provide the spark the Bruins desperately need.

“I am concerned, and we always look – we’ve got some guys that weren’t dressed tonight that have played well for this team,” Cassidy said. “So, we’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I think it’s easier to do the next morning than immediately after the game. Some guys have had a tough time that we need – whether they stay in or not. If they stay in, obviously, they need to be better. A lot of discussion yesterday – the question centered around secondary scoring. 

“That matters, but, if you’re not bringing that, we’ve talked about this. You don’t have your A-game, so to speak, bring your B-game. Well, you’ve got to defend better, and that’s where my issue lies. You need to bring something else to the table, and then eventually the scoring will come, or if you’re a guy that’s scored in this league. I believe that. I think that’s where, fundamentally, we’re missing out on some of the players we rely on.”

Either way, the Bruins can’t expect Donato or Tim Schaller or anyone else who moves from the press box to the lineup to single-handedly change things. They can help, but the Bruins need their everyday guys to step up.

The B’s had an effective bottom six all season. Both the third and fourth lines played good defense, and the third line contributed its fair share of offense. They’re capable of playing better than they have in this series. The Krejci line is capable of scoring more.

The Bruins have enough depth that they shouldn’t have to rely solely on the Bergeron line. But the last two games, it hasn’t been there. They better hope it returns in Friday night’s Game 4 or they could be heading back to Tampa down 3-1.