Kalman: Bruins’ lineup holes could put them out of Leafs series in six

Matt Kalman
April 20, 2019 - 12:26 am

Scientists revealed they succeeded in their 20-year quest to get an image of a black hole earlier this week.

There’s no truth to the rumor they pointed their network of telescopes at the Bruins lineup and found more black holes than they could imagine.

Nevertheless this Bruins lineup currently has more holes than a spaghetti strainer and its ushering them toward an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Bruins lost at home for the second time in the Eastern Conference first round against Toronto, this time 2-1 at TD Garden on Friday. And now their search for a 60-minute team effort shifts to Toronto, where down 3-2 in the series they won’t live to see another day if they don’t fill their holes in Game 6.

“I don’t think we played to our capabilities and what we’ve shown before and what we have,” center Charlie Coyle admitted.

Proof of Coyle's words were eveywhere all night. Three lazy, predictable power plays. An eight-minute stretch of the third period when the Bruins landed just two shots on net. A forecheck that hardly made the Maple Leafs sweat most of the night.

The Maple Leafs have solved the Bruins’ forecheck, running the right amount of interference, executing their icing-canceling tip plays at the blue line to perfection and creating races in the Boston end instead of always trying to get chances off the rush. When they’ve managed to get their possession and march into Toronto territory, no Bruins seems to want to “get on the inside” as Cassidy likes to say. They’re playing a perimeter game and nothing the coach has tried has created much of a spark.

David Pastrnak’s Game 4 eruption turned out to be a burp rather than a volcano. Jake DeBrusk still looks more like his shadow than the lightning fast, aggressive left wing the Bruins saw most of the season. Brad Marchand’s 1-on-1 moves have been memorized and defused every time by Toronto’s defenders. Marcus Johansson seems destined to join the long list of trade-deadline pickups that were more dead wood than lineup lifters.

Making matters worse, Cassidy was forced to roll a three-line team. By midway through the first period David Backes was an afterthought, playing just two shifts after the first period. Instead of a bottom six, Danton Heinen, Noel Acciari, Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly became a jigsaw puzzle, taking shifts alongside Coyle, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron throughout the final 40 minutes. Every combination seemed more destined to lose its shift to the Maple Leafs than the previous one.

From the outside it seemed like all the line juggling was throwing the Bruins off. Sure, they’ve switched lines often during the season, but never shift to shift. Bruins players after the game had their coach’s back and refused to use that as an excuse. And in the coach’s defense, he was on the bench with the pulse of his team and felt like he was getting a flat line.

“I didn’t think that we had energy in the bottom of our lineup,” Cassidy said. “They don’t generally play their fourth line a lot, so if our fourth line and the guys we use in that roll aren’t going together in sync then it works against us. That’s the way I saw it. … Obviously, in the end we lost the game, so who knows? Clearly, I don’t know if the difference in the game were the minutes that were distributed because they are generally energy anyway, and we lacked a bit of that early on.”

With the energy guys out of the picture, the two-way skill players should’ve used the extra ice time to produce. Instead they succumbed to a superior game plan from Toronto and the emerging two-way center punch of John Tavares and Auston Matthews, who have become to Toronto what Bergeron and Krejci are to the Bruins.

The ice-time dispersion may not have made a difference. The post Krejci hit from the slot late in the second may have changed perceptions. There’s still no excuse for what the Bruins have given in most of four of the five games. Even in Game 4 they escaped by the skin of their teeth after almost losing all of a three-goal lead. They played the same way in Game 5, but without the offensive support – a product of simplifying their game – in front of Tuukka Rask’s fine goaltending.

If the Bruins don’t find production where their holes are, this season is going to end light years before it should have concluded.

 

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