In each of the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Boston Bruins top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak has struggled early in each series and then delivered later in the series when their teammates needed them most. With just a goal and an assist between the three of them in the first two games of this Stanley Cup Final series with the St. Louis Blues – that’s headed back to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 tied at a game apiece – ‘The Perfection’ Line has looked anything but perfect. However, for those of you freaking out over this lack of production from the NHL’s best line this season, fear not because if the first three rounds are any indication, the Bruins’ big guns will wake up as the series goes on and provide the clutch scoring the Bruins will need to win what more and more seems to be a long war of attrition ahead between these two heavy teams.
Per NHL Network, Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak combined for just seven goals and eight assists (in 11 games) between Games 1-3 against Toronto, Columbus, and Carolina. They were also a combined minus 16. In Games 4-7 though, they flipped the switch and found their scoring touch, lighting the Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, and Hurricanes up for a combined 24 goals and 17 assists in eight games.
“They don’t usually go very long without being a factor,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the top line Thursday. “I don’t imagine that will change. I suspect in Game 3, we’ll see their best game of the series.”
— Heiko Oldoerp (@HeikoOldoerp) May 30, 2019
The Bruins were well aware of the vaunted Blues forecheck coming into the Stanley Cup Final and in Game 2 they found out just how relentless, suffocating and painful that forecheck can be. Maybe because they’re always playing a similar style themselves, the Bruins’ fourth line was the only trio to survive the pressure and physical beating the Blues put on the Bruins and light the lamp. The first three lines, and more specifically the top line seemed to have no answers and failed to adjust. The end result was a 3-2 overtime win for the Blues and the Bruins’ first loss in eight games and only loss in the month of May. Cassidy and Bergeron both acknowledged Thursday the Bruins failure to counter that St. Louis forecheck and what they will need to do to turn things around as they did in the first three rounds.
“If there are two guys coming, which is a scenario for challenging a rush, so one D is back on the puck with the goalie. Our center or first forward back should beat their second guy,” Cassidy pointed out. “That’s how we’d like them to help first of all, so you can absorb a hit, bump the puck or get turned up-ice and make that short pass. We look for short outlets if we can. If they’re coming too hard, generally a lot of times a hard rim-around if they don’t lock the walls. Our forwards need to beat the D for an inside position so we get to the puck first because they’re going to pinch. Center has to be under and our winger has to come across and read, whether the puck gets out of the zone, start our forecheck or win a race there.
When we’ve been effective beating their forecheck, we’ve done those things. It’s a five-man group being in sync. Usually starts with someone winning the puck, whether it’s the D back on the puck first, separating, or whether it’s on the wall. We haven’t gone up the middle a ton because it’s dangerous territory against a good forecheck team with good sticks. Usually, get out of our zone clean if you are able to make that pass because the center can put the puck either way. Hard to pinch it in the middle of the ice. Usually, pinch on the boards. That’s what we ask, of our forwards, to win that battle on the walls, support that first touch. If we’re able to do that, we’ve been pretty good. The other night that’s where I thought we got stretched out. I think we’re close enough to win those races to pucks.”
In 17:31 TOI in which his line and the Bruins second line of Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Backes played, the Blues led the Bruins in shot attempts (22-10); shots on goal (9-4); high-danger scoring chances (5-0) and goals 1-0. Like Cassidy, Bergeron knows that to generate more offense, he and his linemates need to defend better and then, as a result, they will possess the puck more. The Bruins top center also knows that while he and his teammates need to learn from their mistakes, they can’t dwell on them.
“I think we obviously have to respond from last night. It’s always about what’s in front of you,” Bergeron said. “Whatever is behind is in the past. You have no control over it. I think when a game like that happens, you look at what you can improve, get better, and go back to what you know is successful for your team and you individually. That’s all. You just have to go out there and play your style, just worry about what we can really control.”