By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins survived the first 11 games of the playoffs.
That survival has largely been on the back of their goaltender, some strong play from their forever-rotating bottom-six forward group, and even some timely power-play goals. Now, these were all incredibly important pieces for the Bruins during the regular season, and those things are what you need to go on a deep run.
But what the Bruins needed more than anything, actually, was their dominant first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak to reactivate their Takeover Mode.
The Bruins have had this line contribute at various points throughout the Black and Gold’s postseason — all three players had scored big goals to push the Bruins through their first-round head-to-head with the Maple Leafs and seemed to finally get going in their Game 4 win in Columbus last Thursday — but you were still waiting for that patented even-strength domination.
Boston’s Game 5 win at TD Garden, which saw the trio account for three of Boston’s four goals in a 4-3 final, saw exactly that.
“I think [Game 5] was an excellent game for them,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked about his top line’s performance in the victory. “They got going in Game 4 up in Columbus. When your offensive guys and players like those guys that put a lot of pressure on themselves to lead, both production-wise, effort-wise, details… If it doesn’t go your way there’s a level of frustration. They’re humans, so now they break through [in Game 4] and [in Game 5] they’re back to feeling good about themselves and listen, you’ve seen them around here.
“They’re dominant, and when they’re on and they’re very good even when they’re not on.
“If they start feeling it, it’s a tall task for the other team,” Cassidy continued. “Now, they’re not going to win every battle because the opposition has good players as well that go through the same, but those guys are elite players. And yes, if not their best game, [it was] certainly close, and it came at a good time. Credit to them too to understand the situation we’re in, and we’re in the other night, started the process of us digging out of a deficit.”
Marchand, meanwhile, appeared to take exception to my thought that this was their best game.
He said it was funny how I sit here and dictate what constitutes a good game for the line, especially when they generated more chances in prior outings but didn’t get the results. It seemed oddly combative. Now, maybe I was a dick. Maybe it was poorly phrased on my part, or in a manner that suggested they had been playing poorly. (I, personally, didn’t think that was the case, but who knows. It’s all besides the point, anyway, as none of this should be about me or dumb questions I ask.)
But to say that this wasn’t their best game this spring, or that this was just a simple case of their chances going in, seems like short-changing this line’s Game 5 performance.
They were a straight-up buzzsaw against John Tortorella’s club.
For all the talk of this line’s inability to piece it together for a complete game effort, I really thought it was one of the line’s first shifts in the third period that opened the floodgates. With possession on their side in the attacking zone, the Bergeron Line moved the puck around with tremendous skill, and the sequence saw Pastrnak alone make at least three smart positioning or stick moves to keep the offensive pressure on Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
Now, the Bruins got nothing tangible out of that shift, but it was a sign of things to come, as it really felt as if this line got stronger as the game went along, and that their outright refusal to quit eventually broke Bob and the Jackets.
Marchand capitalized on a second-chance opportunity against Bobrovsky and got a monkey off his back (relatively speaking) to break what was nearly a six-game goalless slide, and it was Pastrnak that answered with a pair of response goals to Blue Jacket tallies, seemingly resurrecting his status as the skillful game-breaking threat that dominated last year’s postseason.
It was also their best effort this spring when it came to chances and looks, too.
Together for 12:19 of five-on-five play, the Bergeron Line outshot the Blue Jackets 14-5 when on the ice. Excluding quick reunions and breakups this postseason, it was easily their best differential. That 12:19 also featured eight scoring chances from the trio, another playoff-best for them, along with an attempt chart that favored Boston by a 22-8 mark. That, again, was their best mark of the postseason, and was their best game as a whole (with at least 10 minutes of five-on-five action together) since Mar. 21’s 5-1 win over the Devils. They were stupidly good, making a strong Columbus defense look hopeless.
And it could be the final piece to the Bruins emerging as a legitimate Stanley Cup favorite.
Think about it: The Bruins are getting worthwhile contributions out of a third-line combination headlined by the budding chemistry between Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. Tuukka Rask is playing his best hockey since his 2013 run to the Stanley Cup Final. You’re seeing young defenders like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy learn more about playoff hockey every single shift. And even David Backes, a man that’s essentially been without a home in Cassidy’s lineup for the last two years, has locked solid with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on Boston’s second line in back-to-back games.
With everything else going right, the Bergeron Line certainly felt like the last piece of the puzzle that needed to fall into place.
Something you’d have to believe has happened based on the last 120 minutes of hockey.
“If you give a line like that enough games under their belt against a certain opponent, they’re going to find enough things that work. Early on they were frustrated the normal things were not working for them but now they’re finding what works,” said Bruins defenseman Torey Krug. “They’re a scary line, they come at you and they attack you, now pucks are going in for them.
“Once we get that line going consistently, we’re a very scary team.”
Especially when they’re able to celebrate more than just chances.