Bruins need more from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand if they're going to turn series around

Scott McLaughlin
April 20, 2019 - 1:25 am

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand haven't been bad in the Bruins' first-round series against the Maple Leafs. They just haven't been great. And if the Bruins are going to go to Toronto and win Game 6 and then come back home and win a decisive Game 7, they're going to need those two to be great.

It's a lot to ask. It's arguably even unfair. After all, there are plenty of other Bruins who need to step up. Usual linemate David Pastrnak got off the schneid with two goals in Game 4, but then went quiet again in Game 5 until registering a nice assist in the final minute on the goal that cut the Leafs' lead to 2-1.

Jake DeBrusk has been invisible outside of his Game 2 tussles with Nazem Kadri. The fourth line has struggled so much that coach Bruce Cassidy basically stopped using it in Game 5, opting to roll three lines with the remaining forwards slotting in for shifts here and there just to provide a breather.

Pick a defenseman out of a hat and you'll be able to find some lowlights. Tuukka Rask has been good but not great (as an aside, you're really reaching if he's at or near the top of your list of Bruins problems this series).

But here's the thing: You expect pretty much everyone else on the team to be up and down over the course of a playoff series. You expect Bergeron and Marchand to be up, and stay up, because that's what they've done for years.

And when you're facing a team with two great lines like the Maple Leafs have, you need Bergeron and Marchand to consistently win their matchup against one of the two, and then hope your other lines can play the other one evenly, or at least limit its damage.

Too often in this series, the Bergeron line -- with either David Pastrnak or Danton Heinen on right wing -- has lost its matchup against either the John Tavares line or the Auston Matthews line -- along with the defense pairing of Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev.

In Game 1, they played the vast majority of their 5-on-5 shifts against Muzzin, Zaitsev, Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman, and they lost. They were outshot 7-3, out-attempted 11-8, and finished the game minus-2 in goals. They got doubled up in high-danger chances 4-2.

In Game 2, Cassidy got Bergeron and Marchand away from the Tavares line more and they ended up matching with Matthews the most. The results were better: Marchand scored an even-strength goal, Bergeron scored on the power play, and the Bruins won 4-1. But there still wasn't the 5-on-5 dominance that's been a hallmark of that pair: Bergeron actually finished the game a minus-1, and when he was on the ice, the Bruins were outshot 10-6 and out-attempted 17-11 at even strength.

With Game 3 in Toronto, Leafs coach Mike Babcock was able to get the Tavares line and Muzzin-Zaitsev back on Bergeron pretty much every shift at 5-on-5. While neither line scored on the other in an eventual 3-2 Toronto win, if you had to pick a winner it would once again have to be the Tavares line, which had eight scoring chances in nearly 11 minutes playing against each other compared to four for the Bergeron line.

Game 4: A decisive win for the Bergeron line! Hallelujah. Perhaps replacing Pastrnak with Heinen sparked something, perhaps Bergeron and Marchand just got back to their usual astronomically high level of play, perhaps Tavares and company had a down night -- probably some combination of the three. Bergeron and Marchand outscored the Tavares line and Muzzin-Zaitsev 3-0 at even strength (two of the goals came with Heinen on the right and one came during a single shift with Pastrnak). Shots were 9-6, Corsi was 15-9, scoring chances were 9-5, all in the Bruins top line's favor.

The hope, of course, was that Bergeron and Marchand had finally found their groove and were ready to take off for the remainder of the series, no matter who they were matched up against.

But Game 5 didn't turn out that way. Bergeron and Marchand took shifts with both Pastrnak and Heinen throughout the game as Cassidy kept juggling his lines, and they split their time pretty evenly between the Tavares line and the Matthews line, but they were never able to take control against either. They never looked dangerous.

The matchup with the Tavares line Friday night was pretty even by every statistical measure, but Bergeron and Marchand found themselves caved in by the Matthews line, an unexpected turn given how much the Bruins' top line dominated Matthews in the first round last year. In a little over five minutes against each other, Matthews -- with Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen on his wings -- led in shot attempts 8-1, shots on goal 4-1, scoring chances 4-1, and goals 1-0.

That just can't happen. At worst, Bergeron and Marchand need to play that line evenly. As Game 5 went on, you found yourself waiting for one of those classic, dominant Bergeron line shifts where they pin their opponent in the defensive zone and wear them down before breaking through. It didn't happen until they helped create the extra-attacker goal in the final minute that cut Toronto's lead to 2-1, but that was too late.

Bergeron's line is getting the highest offensive zone start percentage of anyone on the team (Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak all over 65%), meaning they're the ones Cassidy is putting out in offensive situations. This isn't a matter of them not creating chances because they're getting a bunch of defensive zone assignments.

That the Bruins' top power-play unit -- which features Bergeron and Marchand along with Pastrnak, Torey Krug and Marcus Johansson -- struggled mightily on its three opportunities just made things that much worse.

Now the Bruins go on the road for a must-win Game 6. Yes, there are plenty of other Bruins who need to step up. The result of this series does not lay solely at the feet of Bergeron and Marchand. But the Bruins' chances of winning increase dramatically if their top line plays more like it did in Game 4 and less like it has for much of the rest of the series.

Note: All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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