By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
If things don't change in a hurry for the Blues' depth forwards, this could be a short Stanley Cup Final.
Going into this series, the Bruins’ biggest advantage over the Blues on paper was their superior depth of speed and skill up front. It certainly showed up in Boston’s furious comeback and dominant finish to Game 1 on Monday. On a night where Patrice Bergeron’s line never fully got its footing, bottom-six stalwarts like Sean Kuraly and Marcus Johansson picked up the slack.
For the Blues it was the opposite. Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz combined for two goals and two assists, but beyond that group they barely threatened Tuukka Rask.
Top-to-bottom offensive contributions have made the Bruins a markedly more dangerous playoff team than a year ago. And if the Blues don’t get similar help from their bottom-nine forwards, they won’t have enough to keep pace over the course of seven games.
That can still change. The Blues proved able to spread out their offense in their six-game win over the Sharks in the Western Conference Final. Outside of the top line, the Blues got goals from Tyler Bozak (3), David Perron (3), Oskar Sundqvist (2), Ivan Barbashev (2), Ryan O’Reilly, and Alex Steen (pictured above, getting Rock-em-sock-em'd by Jake DeBrusk) in that series.
In Game 1 against the Bruins, those same forwards combined for three shots on goal. The line of Barbashev, Sundqvist, and Steen got obliterated to the tune of a 16.7 percent Corsi rating. It crystallized as the game went on: this is not Brent Burns and a one-legged Erik Karlsson they're facing.
“We just didn’t get to our game, we didn’t get it deep, we didn’t have no grind time, we didn’t forecheck hard enough, we weren’t tight enough out there in five-man groups and they were able to break the puck out easy and come back in transition,” said Schenn after the game, summarizing the Blues’ sloppy performance in the second and third periods.
Contrast that dropoff with the Bruins’ continued production up and down the lineup.
"We just have the depth showing up right now,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand told reporters after practice on Tuesday. “We’re able to rely on different guys every night. If you want to go far in the playoffs that’s what you need, you need to be able to rely on the entire group, and we’ve had that so far."
The Blues can turn things around if they can begin to establish their typically heavy forecheck. It worked well against the Sharks. The Bruins present a different challenge because they play more structured team defense. Opponents that have given them trouble, like the Maple Leafs, pressured their defenders by getting behind them with speed and puck movement. It’s fair to wonder if the Blues can do enough in that department to hang with the Bruins’ quick breakouts and waves of attack.
"It’s tough to play against. It wears them down,” said Bruins winger Marcus Johansson on Tuesday. “We don’t take any breaks. We have four lines that can produce and I think four lines that have stepped up in big moments. We’ve got six D that all make plays. It makes it tough, and throughout a whole series it’s not fun to play against."
The disappearing act of the Blues’ depth forwards made them exceptionally easy to play against for the majority of Game 1. It appears after one game that they won’t be able to beat the Bruins by winning their matchup against the Bergeron line alone. Because the B’s are still getting championship-level performance out of their bottom-9.
It’s time to see if the Blues can match that.
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].