By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
These Bruins have proved that they can survive just about anything.
Injuries to key players? Yeah, that’s fine, train keeps on rolling. A half-season dry spell in the offensive zone? No worries, here’s some team-defense and hot goaltending. A lethargic Game 1 loss in your own building? That’s fine, here comes David Backes and a strong puck-retrieval night as a Game 2 shot of adrenaline.
But in a Game 3 loss, the B’s may have finally found the one thing they’re not built to survive: An ineffective David Pastrnak.
Three games into Boston’s opening-round war with the Maple Leafs, you’re still waiting for the 22-year-old to make his first real mark on this series. He came through with a beauty of an assist on Brad Marchand’s goal in Game 2, but aside from that, it’s been all too quiet on the Pastrnak front.
In fact, through three games, Pastrnak has yet to score on 10 pucks pummeled on net.
The Czech winger had six separate stretches of three games with at least 10 shots and zero goals during the regular season, and the Bruins posted a sub-.500 record of 6-7-1 over those six stretches, while Pastrnak totaled just six assists and a minus-6 through that 6-7-1 mark. And in addition to that so-so record, the Bruins as a team averaged just 2.07 goals per game over that 14-game run with Pastrnak shooting blanks. You’re seeing something similar develop here, as the Bruins are shooting just 6.09 percent through three games, the third-worst among the postseason field of 16 soon to be halved.
I know these numbers are hardly shocking when you’re talking about a player who accounted for almost 15 percent of your team’s all-situation scoring (include his assists and Pastrnak factored in on a staggering 31.5 percent of Boston’s offense during the regular season). But it speaks to this team’s struggles as a whole when No. 88 is in action but stuck in neutral. It’s doubly painful when you realize what an absolutely established soul-sucker Pastrnak had been against the Leafs heading into this series, with six goals and nine points in four regular-season contests this season, and five goals and 13 points in seven head-to-head meetings in last year’s first-round series.
Pastrnak was basically Frederik Andersen’s personal Dementor.
But right now? Pastrnak can’t even get out of his own way. Or his teammates’ strides, for that matter.
Marchand running into his own man and then tripping over the net. pic.twitter.com/wggApqrW0K— Flintor (@TheFlintor) April 16, 2019
Matched up against the Leafs’ John Tavares-Mitch Marner combination, we can’t ignore the difficult matchup in front of Pastrnak and linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The Bergeron Line is actually losing both the shots battle (20-17 for the Leafs) and scoring battle (1-0 for Toronto) in over 35 five-on-five minutes together this series. That did not happen to this line against any opponent they played against for more than 20 five-on-five minutes during the regular season.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Game 3 that the line’s head-to-head battle has essentially canceled each line out, leading to some lacking offensive totals from both groups.
Looking at those numbers, it’s a solid bet on the part of Cassidy, but it’s also more than that.
Pastrnak seems gun-shy.
It’s not hard to see why, as the Leafs have identified him as Boston’s top threat. It only took ’em a season and a half of getting their ass kicked by Pastrnak, so kudos to the greatest coach ever Mike Babcock for finally figuring out that Pastrnak’s a talented player. And they’re trying to take him out of this game not in the literal sense (Hiya, Nazem!), but by essentially trying to beat the compete out of him. Among playoff forwards with at least 50 minutes of play this spring, Pastrnak ranks 12th in hits absorbed per game. The Maple Leafs don’t even hit! But it’s made a definite impact, you’d believe, as Pastrnak looks more like the rattled 2017 Playoff Pastrnak than the dominant 2018 Playoff Pastrnak that ruined Toronto.
Pastrnak also — like many other Boston shooters — appears to be looking for that one extra pass for an empty cage against Andersen (a goaltender who allowed the second-most goals in all of hockey from March through Game 82). Perhaps no (absolutely maddening) sequence spoke to this worse than Pastrnak deferring to Krejci, positioned on the outside and not exactly in a prime shooting position as a right shot along the right wall, with five seconds left in the third period in Game 3.
All hugs for @Marner93 after 2 brutal blocked shots secure a #MapleLeafs victory ???? https://t.co/ky45cqPleI #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Npn98ORNEL— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) April 16, 2019
(You’re really not accustomed to seeing Pastrnak pass on any shot, let alone a potential game-tying look like that.)
Of course, putting all of this on No. 88 would be misguided, to say the least.
Cassidy himself acknowledged as much, saying that the line as a whole is far too talented not to break through at some point in this series.
But given the way you’ve seen Pastrnak legitimately wreck the Leafs again and again — and considering the fact that he’s perhaps the most talented player on that line if we’re talking about skill and skill alone — there’s no doubt that the Bruins are only going to survive and advance if and when this series is decided by his stick.