Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bruins' net-front dominance key to offensive success vs. Leafs

Scott McLaughlin
April 15, 2018 - 12:50 am

Ask any player or coach what the key to any game or series is and “get to the net” will probably be the first or second thing they mention. It’s one of hockey’s favorite clichés. It’s also an extremely effective way to score goals.

There are a lot of things the Bruins have done right en route to taking a 2-0 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but one thing in particular that has jumped out is how often they’ve been able to set up shop right in front of Toronto’s net and get in perfect position for redirects, rebounds and passes into the slot.

Of the Bruins’ 12 goals in the series, nine have come from right on top of the crease, including six in Saturday’s 7-3 win. 

David Pastrnak opened the scoring by going to the slot, settling a bouncing puck after a deflected point shot and tucking it past Frederik Andersen. Jake DeBrusk parked himself right in front and redirected Torey Krug’s centering pass for a power-play goal. Rick Nash did the same thing on a later power play and found himself in perfect position to bury a rebound. 

David Krejci went hard to the net and ended up with an easy tip-in off a Pastrnak slap pass. Pastrnak scored his second goal of the game by taking in a Patrice Bergeron pass behind the net and walking right out front before roofing a shot. He then capped off his ridiculous six-point night by finding so much space in front that he was able to casually drag the puck through his legs and flip in a backhander.

The only Bruins goal Saturday that wasn’t scored from within about 10 feet of the net came from Kevan Miller, but that still deflected in off the skate of Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who was in a tough position in front because he was trying to clear out Pastrnak.

The point here is that the Bruins have been able to get to grade-A scoring areas seemingly at will and it’s led to a lot of goals. We knew going into the series that the Leafs’ weak spot was their defense, but that group has looked even more overmatched than any of us probably could’ve imagined.

Toronto’s defenders have lost Bruins in coverage and given them open lanes to the front (see all three of Pastrnak’s goals as well as Krejci’s goal), and even when they’ve had defenders in front, they’ve been unable to force the Bruins’ forwards out of that space (see DeBrusk’s and Nash’s goals Saturday as well as David Backes’ goal in Game 1).

The Bruins have been particularly unmovable on the power play, where they’ve consistently had one of Nash, DeBrusk or Backes looking so at home in front of the crease that you’re just waiting for them to start moving in some furniture.

“We’re a determined group. We’ve got courage, for one,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “To go to the dirty areas, you need courage. So, then you get people there, and then you need pucks to arrive there, so it becomes a mindset. You can have players go there all day, but if the pucks don’t arrive, it gets frustrating. So, that goes hand in hand. We believe that’s an area that we want to force them to defend. If they’re willing to hang in there and battle us there and win that battle, then we’ll tip our hat to them.”

So far, the Leafs have not looked willing to hang in there and battle. If they have any intention of making this a competitive series, they better become willing. Until or unless that happens, the Bruins are going to keep going to those dirty areas, and they’re going to keep scoring.