By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just one game after David Pastrnak couldn't miss, nothing went the winger's way on Monday night. Pastrnak and the Bruins' No. 1 line found themselves snakebitten in Game 3 against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, mostly at the hands of goalie Frederik Andersen. And also themselves.
But as the B's get ready for Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, they need to figure out how to counter the way the Leafs were able to hold their top-3 forwards scoreless. Because it wasn't all the proverbial "puck luck."
Nonetheless, the Bruins created an impressive amount of high-quality chances in the third period against Andersen on Monday night. They couldn't break through on any of them, as missed opportunities - especially by Bruins headliners Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand - will come to define their 4-2 loss in the end. But they won't tell the whole story, either.
Epitomizing those lost opportunities were a trio of scoring chances for Pastrnak on a power play early in the third period, with the Leafs tenuously clinging to a 3-2 lead. First he took a sly feed from Rick Nash and clanged the post with a gaping net. Then, 26 seconds later, he nearly had Andersen beat on a backhand in front - but the goalie got just enough of a piece of the puck to chip it out of harm's way.
And though the Bruins had just gone down 4-2 on a back-breaking goal by Patrick Marleau, the greatest robbery against Pastrnak came with Andersen's diving stick save late in regulation:
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 17, 2018
Bergeron also missed a great chance in the third period, denied at the doorstep by a sprawled Andersen. Marchand hit a crossbar. The line combined to go 0-for-9 shooting, while all three were on the ice for at least two of the Leafs' four goals (Marchand was a minus-3).
And as far as missed opportunities go, honorable mention goes to another line. as David Krejci whiffed on a sterling opportunity right in front after a shifty Jake DeBrusk set him up for a potential show-stopper. The slip-up encapsulated an off night for a second line that couldn't make up for the follies of the first.
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) April 17, 2018
But back to that first group. They certainly failed to capitalize on some very real chances to knot the game back up and put the pressure back on the Leafs. Still, the third period felt like they'd crammed all their chances into too short of a time after faltering for much of the first two periods.
An early shift for the line foreshadowed the frustrations of later in the game, and also the Leafs' newfound organization in their own end. Parking as many as three defenders around the net-front area, the Leafs still let Marchand find his way in front. But he couldn't bury his chance, and then couldn't find an opening to work the puck back toward the middle, instead getting flattened along the boards by James van Riemsdyk. Threat over.
Mike Babcock's shifting of his lines, moving Tomas Plekanec up to center Marleau and Mitch Marner, certainly paid off when they matched up against the Bruins' top line. He also got his defense to play a much tighter, more physical game against Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak. The Bruins' studs often had far less space to work with than the first two games, especially in front of the net.
Leafs defenders who struggled in their own end in Games 1 and 2, like Morgan Rielly, suddenly showed sound positioning and physicality when the Bruins tried (and mostly failed) to get their cycle game going. Inside pass attempts suddenly couldn't find their way through. Pastrnak didn't get his first shot on goal until 9:10 left in the second period.
And when the line finally started to get rolling consistently in the third, Andersen was there to make the big stops. And the forwards that combined to score 20 points in the first two games of the series suddenly couldn't find No. 21.
The Leafs didn't have a perfect answer for the Bruins' top line, but they had an answer. They found a way to keep Boston's most lethal forwards off the score sheet, and proved that Boston will have trouble winning if those guys are shut out.
Perhaps the puck bounces go the Bruins' way in Game 4, but they most certainly tilted in Toronto's favor on Monday. Everyone needs a little luck to win, anyway. Ultimately, the Leafs finished their chances and the Bruins didn't. Their combination of a much-improved effort against the Bergeron line and timely saves made a huge difference in Game 3, and made this series much more interesting than it could've been.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].
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