By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
While you were doing your best to prop up the good-not-great play of Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen as a goaltender that was stealing the series for Toronto (never happened), Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was stonewalling the best team we’ve seen in over two decades. It was on the back of Bobrovsky that the Blue Jackets made the Lightning the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to get swept in the first round. Ever!
And three games into this second-round series against Boston, Bobrovsky has shown no signs of slowing down.
For Bobrovsky, that failure to slow down has seen him post a seemingly-ridiculous .943 save percentage through his first three head-to-heads with a Bruins team that (historically speaking) has owned him throughout his career. Include his first-round sweep and Bobrovsky has a .937 save percentage (and .949 even-strength save percentage) through seven appearances this spring.
And now he has luck on his side, too, with three post shots benefitting Bob in a 36-of-37 Game 3 win.
Factor Bobrovsky’s performance in with a Columbus defense that’s routinely taken away Boston’s top threats, and nullified a B’s power play that made up for their five-on-five struggles throughout the year, and it’s easy to think the Bruins are in trouble.
Unless you’re Brandon Carlo.
“The secondary saves that he is making are very impressive, but he’s definitely going to crack at some point,” Carlo said after their Game 3 loss. “I have a lot of faith that we’re going to start putting pucks past him here pretty soon. We had some great opportunities [in Game 3] throughout all three periods to put pucks behind him.
“Credit to him, but overall I don’t think it’s going to last.”
That’s quite a statement from Carlo.
But is there any sort of foundation to Carlo’s confidence? Actually, yes.
It was just in the first round that the Leafs’ Andersen tricked you into thinking he was dominating the Bruins with stops on 108 of the first 115 shots thrown his way (a .939 save percentage). With you duped by Andersen and failing to recognize that it was the Bruins’ inability to get to prime scoring areas and truly challenge him was that was making him look like the Danish Tim Thomas, the Bruins proceeded to win three of the next four games thanks to Andersen’s leaky .907 save percentage.
I’d contest that the Bruins have had similar problems out of the gate in this series, with their players unable to generate enough quality looks at five-on-five play (until late in their Game 3 loss), which has forced the Bruins to settle for low-percentage chances. Especially from their defenders, who are consistently left to simply shoot into Bob’s pads.
The “fancy stats” back this up, as the Bruins have generated the second-fewest all-situation, high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of play among the eight teams still skating in the second round.
What makes this frustrating — and similar to their struggles against the Maple Leafs last round — is that the Bruins have made good on their high-danger chances when earned, with Columbus having the second-worst high-danger save percentage (.800) among those eight remaining teams. (And not that anybody’s going to talk about this because why would they when the mileage on narratives from like five years ago still somehow beats the hell out of any Smart Car, but I’d just like to mention that Rask and the Bruins have posted a .905 save percentage on high-danger chances against in this series, which is second only to the Carolina tandem that’s stifled the Islanders into an 0-2 hole entering Rowdy Raleigh.)
There’s also reasons to believe Bobrovsky’s not going to break.
The Bruins by all means kept waiting for Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to break in 2012. It never happened. They kept waiting for the Habs’ Carey Price to break in 2014. Never happened. You could even argue that they did the same with Ottawa’s Craig Anderson in 2017, and that never happened.
Bobrovsky’s talent is somewhere in between these players, and likely falls closer to a Holtby or Price than an Anderson.
But he’s only truly unbeatable if the Bruins continue to settle for low-percentage looks.
Here are some other random thoughts and notes from a 2-1 final at Nationwide Arena…
B’s need to use Columbus’ physicality to their advantage
The Blue Jackets are an absolute seek-and-destroy kind of team. Jackets head coach John Tortorella has even noted the fact that he thinks his team has spent a little too much chasing after the big hits versus letting the play come to them.
In other words, they have yet to see a Boston skater they did not want to put through the glass.
That’s certainly worked to their advantage at times in this series, but it’s also something the Bruins can expose if they’re committed. I think back to the Tampa Bay Lightning last postseason; when the Bruins tried to put the teams on equal footing with a physical gameplan, the Lightning simply let the B’s chase hits, but used their puck-possession game to dance around those hits and create chances the other way. (The Bruins were a solid possession team during the regular season, too.)
And I think they have the personnel — up front with their (disjointed) top line, Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Danton Heinen, Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle and on the backend with Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk — to potentially expose this. I mean, look at Josh Anderson swinging (and missing) on a TKO elbow towards Zdeno Chara. If that’s happening with a player with a bit more foot-speed than Chara, it should lead to numbers the other way for the Bruins.
After all, this game won’t be won by out-hitting the Blue Jackets. Give yourself a chance with the puck on your stick.
Late-game personnel could use a tweak or two
If David Pastrnak is not going to wake up from this nightmare, he shouldn’t be on the ice during Boston’s late-game efforts to tie things up. That’s not a knock on Pastrnak, but the 22-year-old is clearly limited right now, and you have to wonder when enough’s enough in terms of him being a liability out there as a less-than-100 percent talent.
I look at last night as a perfect example of this: With the Bruins trying to things up and their net empty, there was zero reason for Charlie Coyle to remain parked on Boston’s bench. He’s earned the right to be your net-front presence or right-side threat, as he’s outplayed some of the other players on the ice in that moment, whether that’s Pastrnak or Jake DeBrusk. Same for Charlie McAvoy, who I thought played his best game of the postseason on Tuesday night, and has some slight experience playing opposite Torey Krug when the Bruins are looking to load up on offensive firepower.
There’s trusting your guys (and it’s worth mentioning that teams tend to put their top power-play unit out there for these situations) and there’s trusting the guys that are going. Cassidy has typically had a good read on that front, but it’s something the B’s probably could have used in their final minute of play in Game 3.