In the first loss of their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins were victimized by blinding speed and an inability to deal with the stretch pass that speed created. In their second loss of the series, a 3-2 setback in Game 3, it was more a death of thousand nicks and cuts. Instead of using speed, the Maple Leafs exposed the Bruins with quickness. But either way, it’s pretty clear the Bruins are chasing this series, both figuratively and literally.
That is going to have to change if the Bruins want to prevail. If the Leafs are smart, they will not get sucked into a smashmouth competition, which plays right into the Bruins’ hands. So somehow, the Bruins are either going to have to match the Maple Leafs’ speed or negate it. The latter seems like the more likely option.
“I think the biggest key to the series is the neutral zone,” said Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk. “And it seemed like they were coming with more speed. I thought we brought the speed in Game 2 and they brought the speed in 1 and 3 and those are the results.”
The Bruins would be very, very wise not to turn this series into a track meet because that is a mug’s game they are certain to lose. But a speed game can be beaten with two things the Bruins haven’t done very well in their losses: play with good puck management and establish a forecheck so the Leafs are unable to use their speed to break out of their zone.
“If we’re better with the puck and better supporting, they can’t really use their speed,” DeBrusk said. “Because they are a fast team and we understand that. It’s more so our forecheck and the neutral zone. They got through way too easy today and there are other teams where they just seemed more urgent.”
The Bruins also need more urgency and production from their top line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, which has had one good game of three in the series so far. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning how successful a team can be when its stars go dry. If it can happen to a team as deep as the Lightning, it can certainly also transpire with the Bruins. The line generated seven shots on goal and 17 shot attempts in 5-on-5 play, with just one of those shots and two of the attempts coming off Marchand’s stick.
Bergeron’s line and the Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Mitch Marner forward line with Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev on defense largely neutralized each other, but that’s a matchup where the Bruins are going to have to come out ahead. The Leafs, in fact, would be thrilled if nothing happened for either unit for the rest of the series. “They had a tougher time getting to the net,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of his top line. “As a result, I think they’re trying real hard 1-on-1 to get there and I think they have to use each other a little better and get an old-fashioned goal where there’s a center lane, drive the puck to the net, a second chance. They’re pretty determined guys and they’ll find a way. They’re against a very committed fivesome right now to keeping them off the scoresheet. I do believe a second-chance goal is in their future if they start funnelling pucks a little more. We need a little more from them where the other team is having to make a decision. They’re very good at finding those soft spots.”
Which goes right back to the speed game. If the Bruins can get a little more of a spring in their step, they will put the Leafs under duress and might be able to locate those soft spots to which Cassidy refers. “That’s kind of the staple of their game, the way they play fast,” Marchand said. “They’re up and chip it in and get on it and blowing three guys. The biggest thing for us is we have to put pucks in areas where it’s tough for them to get it and make sure we have numbers coming back.”
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