By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
This Bruins-Maple Leafs series has become nothing short of infuriating.
The last two games have actually found a way to redefine the term.
It’s not just that this series should be over by now because the Bruins have largely been the better team in this series. Or that the Bruins continue to pile up the games played while their would-be opponent in round two rests down in Tampa Bay. I‘m even willing to go out on a limb and say that it’s not because the Bruins appear to be playing on a five-second tape delay compared to the Maple Leafs when in the attacking zone.
Instead, this frustration should boil back to a simple realization that it’s because of the B’s fifth-straight inconsistent effort that this series is coming back to Boston, where yet another forever-unpredictable — and completely avoidable — Game 7 at TD Garden awaits this Bruins core.
Which should not have even been a consideration given where this team was as recently as last Saturday night.
After a Game 5 loss saw the Bruins do everything but score the game-tying goal and let Toronto melt into a puddle, Game 6 felt like it’d be simple and sweet redemption for a B’s squad that’s routinely left Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen looking behind him.
There was just no possible way to look at the way the Leafs finished (survived is a more appropriate word) Game 5 and feel as if momentum wasn’t on Boston’s side heading back to Toronto; Bruce Cassidy’s group was going back to the ACC on the heels of setting season-highs in shot attempts (90), possession (they controlled possession with 70 percent of the game’s offense), scoring chances (52!), and after surrendering a season-low 19 scoring chances against.
With the Bruins (finally) realizing the moment upon them, the Maple Leafs were going to get run out of their own building, and it was off to Tampa Bay the Bruins would go.
And to their credit, the Bruins carried some of that swagger into Monday’s Game 6.
But it came at the wrong times (read as: without results needed at the other end to make it all worth it), and in between completely self-inflicted wounds that were just downright uncharacteristic of this team.
Everything this team has done wrong, again, seems completely avoidable. And Game 6 was no exception.
The Bruins peppered Andersen for 17 shots in the opening 20 minutes of an elimination Game 6 played on the road, and with the Patrice Bergeron line skating like they had returned to their dominant form. The Bruins were rewarded for this persistence by way of a Jake DeBrusk goal off a set faceoff play just 1:05 into the middle frame.
It should have been a tone-setting goal that got the Bruins going and put the pressure on the Leafs.
But miscommunication between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask on the simplest of chips into the d-zone — a scenario that Chara and Rask have easily and successfully communicated on maybe about 100 times this season — turned a nothing play into a Maple Leaf goal 35 seconds after the DeBrusk tally. It also marked the fifth time that the Leafs had scored a goal within two and a half minutes of a Boston goal in this series. Toronto’s only scored 16 goals in this series, by the way, so the math’s not exactly promising if you’re trying to downplay this alarming trend.
Then a defensive-zone whiff from Brad Marchand allowed Mitch Marner to jump on a loose puck and beat Tuukka Rask on an angle that Rask could have probably played a little bit better. It was a skilled play from a skilled player, we’d all agree. But it’s a goal that simply can’t happen given the way the Bruins were (yet again) surging against Andersen at the other end, with utterly ridiculous looks on goal and Toronto looking gassed shift after shift. (It also shouldn’t happen when you’re out here making guarantees, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.)
Both miscues are beyond correctable, sure, but mainly things that no team can afford this team of year.
Especially one fighting — be it the puck, themselves, or the opposition (oddly enough, it’s the Leaf defense corps providing the least resistance among the three) — as hard as the Bruins are in Toronto’s end.
By the middle frame’s end, you were talking about a Bruins team that had attempted 138 shots in their last 100 minutes, but scored just four goals and had held a lead of any sort for just 35 seconds. This is the fancy way of saying that you were winning the matchups — both at home and on the road — against one of the best coaches in the league.
…And that you weren’t doing enough to expose exactly that.
Paint a more maddening picture, I dare you.
Well, it took just one 18-minute intermission later for the Bruins to do exactly that.
Beginning the third with 1:50 remaining on their first power-play chance of the night, the Bruins could not get a single ounce of space in the attacking zone, and were held to one blocked shot and one missed shot. With less than six minutes left in the third, and by the time the Bruins had been gifted a second power-play chance, they had two shots on goal. They then went ahead with a power play that was able to land one shot of their four attempted shots on goal.
And naturally, when the Boston shots stopped coming, the saves started coming for Rask.
He made sure late-game chances from Kasperi Kapanen and Auston Matthews held as just that, and his play ultimately gave the Bruins a 33-minute window to tie the game. They, of course, did not. They didn’t even look capable of doing such, actually, and in what should have been their most desperate period of the season to date.
Quite simply, it’s been since Game 1 — and maybe the first period of Game 2 — that the Bruins have put together one of the signature wire-to-wire efforts that made them one of the NHL’s top regular-season teams. Or, at the very least, tied it all together just long enough so that it’s not Rask or the offense leaving the other out to dry at inopportune times.
Leaving themselves just 60 minutes — and with zero wiggle room in a Game 7 — to piece it all together.
A situation as frustrating as it was avoidable.
Ty Anderson 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 Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.