COLUMBUS – The Boston Bruins had 31 shots on goal in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s a pretty respectable total for a three-period game, but it’s actually pretty dismal for one that lasted four-plus. On the surface, things don’t look so bad for the Bruins. They’re at 1-1 in the series and they’ve actually outshot the Blue Jackets 68-66 in the first two games. And when it comes to shot attempts, they actually hold a 145-108 margin.
But this is where the numbers might be lying a little. There is some concern about the Bruins and their ability to create offense. Fatigue from a seven-game first round is a factor. David Pastrnak, whose surgically repaired left thumb is almost certainly still a problem, has been invisible offensively and has been moved around the lineup. He’ll likely start Game 3 on the third line. Pastrnak’s usual running mates, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, have no points. The power play has produced just seven shots on goal in eight opportunities, which represents 13:40 in power-play time.
Nothing illustrated the Bruins tentativeness around the net more than in the first period of Game 2 when Jake DeBrusk got a turnover in front of the net and passed up a prime scoring chance by dishing off to Pastrnak. “Looking back at it, I’d like to shoot that puck,” DeBrusk said. “That’s probably the best chance of the playoffs so far. I guess I wasn’t, I guess, thinking clearly at the time. It was kind of a funny play in general. It should have been out of the zone and it wasn’t and the next thing you know it was almost a breakaway and I saw ‘Pasta’ and thought he was a better option.”
DeBrusk also said part of his thought process was to get Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky moving in his net. That’s a clear indication that Bobrovsky, who struggled mightily at times this season but has been spectacular in the playoffs, is getting inside the Bruins’ heads. And the less they shoot, the less success they’re going to have against him. And the less success they have, the more he’s going to become a mental factor for them.
So the mandate for Game 3 is simple. Get more pucks to the net and make Bobrovsky earn his saves. “More of a simple approach will help,” DeBrusk said. “Obviously he’s a very good goaltender and the more volume we get on him, the better chance we’ll have to score. That’s what they’re doing on their side.”
The opportunities to shoot have been there, but when you’re playing against a goalie as good as Bobrovsky, sometimes you tend to overthink things. In the semifinal of the 1998 Olympics, Canada was playing against the Czech Republic and Dominik Hasek was at the height of his powers. Canada directed just 22 shots in regulation time against Hasek and only 27 overall and lost 2-1 in a shootout. Worst. Strategy. Ever. It’s never, ever a good idea to pass up shots on a goalie who is hot.
“It sounds so simple,” said Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, “but truly I think it is. I don’t think there’s any need to find any other words. I think simple is perfect. We need to get more pucks on net, we need to be more shot-oriented. Our power play and 5-on-5, I think there are more opportunities to shoot the puck.”
There certainly are on the power play. But not shooting enough on the power play, the Bruins are not challenging the Blue Jackets penalty killers and fewer opportunities are opening up because of that. The Bruins absolutely shredded the Toronto Maple Leafs on the power play in the first round of the playoffs and had a terrific power play during the regular season. The talent is obviously there for them to create offense, but the mindset has to be there as well.
“On power plays, it’s a man advantage, right?” said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug without a hint of irony. “If you can get out there and just outwork the opposition, then all of a sudden those fancy plays will open up. But it won’t open up until you’re simplifying things and pushing them back hard and not allowing them to get their pressure set. We’re relied on to win hockey games and to score goals for our team and we take it upon ourselves to do that.”
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.