COLUMBUS – Going into Game 4 of their second-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Boston Bruins needed their top players to seize the narrative, set the pace and get them back into a series that seemed to be slipping through their fingers. They desperately needed to break through the suffocating defense the Blue Jackets were imposing on them. They needed to start winning battles. Their skill had to rise to the top and overcome the relentlessness of their opponent.
And because Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask did just that, the Bruins dreams of winning their seventh Stanley Cup remain alive. That the Bruins left Columbus with a 4-1 win to even the series was important, that they did it with their star power shining as bright as it did was paramount. As much as we’d all like to think that hockey is the ultimate team game, the reality is the Bruins are going to go as far in these playoffs as their star players are going to take them.
“I think we can survive for a while,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on the lack of production from his frontline players. “And so far in this series we had. Generally you need your top guys going. And those guys in our room are popular guys and leaders, so guys feed on them and their energy level goes through the rest of the group.”
Key to that was Bergeron, who scored twice on the power play after going the first three games without getting a point. Speaking of the Bruins play with the man advantage, it’s really bizarre. Even though it scored two goals in Game 4, there were times when their power play was more dangerous to itself than to its opponent. Case in point came early in the first period when the power play gave up a partial breakaway to Boone Jenner that resulted in Brad Marchand taking him down and getting a penalty shot. Rask, the best player on the ice, stopped Jenner on that shot, then the Bruins scored on that same power play 26 seconds later.
“You always talk about getting the result,” Bergeron said. “It’s one thing to get chances, but you’ve got to make sure you finish and get results.”
That was even more paramount for Pastrnak, who scored in Game 1, then went missing until Game 4. Not only was Pastrnak not scoring, he didn’t seem to be creating anything, playing on the periphery and taking shots from low-danger areas that were easily stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky. But there was a much more determined effort from Pastrnak in Game 4, something the Bruins are going to need if they want this playoff season to continue into late May.
“Listen, he’s a proud guy,” Cassidy said. “He’s a 22-year-old guy that is still going through that maturity process and learning how to compete at this time of year. He’s got good players around him to help him through it, he’s got the trust of his coaching staff, so we’re going to allow him to play through it. He’s a good kid. He cares a lot and he’s matured a lot over the years, but he’s still a young guy who’s learning what it takes. At the end of the day we’ve got a lot of faith in David.”
Paramount to the Bruins keeping things together was their response to Artemi Panarin’s goal to make it 2-1 that came after Seth Jones’ shot was tipped in the high slot by Pierre-Luc Dubois, then hit Rask’s blocker before hitting the mesh above the glass. None of the four officials saw it hit the netting and the play is not one that could be reviewed, so play went on and Panarin scored. “There was, like, a five-second pause and I’m thinking it’s got to be out of bounds,” Rask said. “And then, next thing I see it’s on the left side and I’m scrambling and I’m on my ass and it’s in the net. If I saw it, I probably would have slammed my stick and chased the refs, but it was probably better that I didn’t see it.”
So now we have ourselves a series. The hockey has been smash mouth and compelling and it’s anyone’s guess which team will win it. It’s almost certain to go seven, which means that if the Bruins triumph, they’ll have played back-to-back series that went the distance and will be facing a well-rested Carolina team if the Hurricanes can close out the New York Islanders Friday night. But the Blue Jackets were rested, too, and the Bruins are right there with them, proving that elite talent can overcome grit and determination when it shows up.
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