Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins' 5-on-5 play in Game 1 just as encouraging as special teams play

Scott McLaughlin
April 13, 2018 - 12:09 am

A quick look at the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Thursday’s Game 1 tells you that special teams were the deciding factor. The Bruins went 3-for-6 on the man advantage while holding Toronto’s second-ranked power play off the board on its three attempts.

That’s all true. Special teams were obviously huge. But don’t lose sight of the fact that the Bruins’ 5-on-5 play was every bit as encouraging, and possibly an even better omen for the remainder of the series.

The Bruins controlled 5-on-5 play pretty much all night, stringing together long shifts in the offensive zone and putting up 54 shot attempts and 30 shots on goal at even strength, compared to just 30 and 19 for the Leafs.

Boston’s top two lines led the way, with all of the Bruins’ top-six forwards finishing the game with Corsi-for percentages of 65 percent or better. While B’s coach Bruce Cassidy doesn’t focus too much on trying to get specific matchups, both the Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci lines took advantage of some favorable shifts against the Leafs’ bottom-six forwards.

The Bergeron line also faced Auston Matthews and Toronto’s top line quite a bit and pinned that dangerous trio deep in its own zone on multiple occasions, which is obviously a great way to prevent them from scoring.

There were several occasions in the game when a Bergeron line shift spent almost entirely in the offensive zone was immediately followed by the Krejci line doing the same, thanks in part to a relentless forecheck from wingers Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash.

The Bergeron line, or a slight variation of it, also scored a pair of even-strength goals. The first came in the final minute of the second period on a dominant offensive-zone shift against the Leafs’ fourth line that saw Brad Marchand set up David Pastrnak for a one-timer from the slot, then retrieve the rebound and set up Pastrnak again for the goal.

The second came 7:41 into the third when Pastrnak took in a long outlet pass from Zdeno Chara, raced in on goal and hit the post, followed by Sean Kuraly (who was taking a shift in Marchand’s place for some reason) bunting in the rebound.

Of course, 5-on-5 dominance is nothing new for the Bruins, and certainly not for Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. The Bruins ranked second in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage this season at 53.8 percent, and that line was one of the best in the league at 58.9 percent while on the ice together.

It’s possible that they’re so used to dominating possession that they sometimes don’t even realize they’re doing it, because when asked about his line’s 5-on-5 play after the game, Marchand said it felt like he spent a lot of time in his own zone. That despite the fact that when he was on the ice at even strength, the Bruins had 22 shot attempts and gave up just five.

Regardless of what it may have felt like to Marchand, the Bruins should feel good about their 5-on-5 play Thursday, in addition to obviously their special teams play. With some raising concerns over Toronto’s speed and forward depth, the Bruins offered a reminder in Game 1 that when they’re playing their best, they're also pretty deep and are capable of neutralizing speed.

“We wanted to play with pace. I thought we did early and allowed us to get behind their D,” Cassidy said. “I think puck management was a point of emphasis for us as much as anything against a fast-break team that can score quickly.”

The Bruins may not get five power plays every game, and they almost certainly won’t score three power-play goals every game. The Leafs power play is too lethal not to get on the board at some point, and it’s worth noting that it did come close a few times Thursday.

But if and when the special teams battle equalizes a little, the Bruins should still be in good shape if they can continue to play this well at 5-on-5.

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