By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins' top line had one of its worst games of the whole season in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. In fact, most of the Bruins as a team played one of their worst games of the season. And it's not like Tuukka Rask had to make many challenging saves before the third period. Yet the B's still got to overtime with a chance to demoralize the Blues.
That ought to tell you how much better than St. Louis the Bruins truly are, how little they looked like it on Wednesday, and how badly they need their top line to step up their game if they want to take back control of the series.
Of the top-3 forwards on what should be the best, most dominant line in the series, Brad Marchand is the most culpable for Game 2. This isn't the first time that the Bruins winger has slogged through sloppy puck management. In Game 2, the sloppiness happened at both ends. He had little to say about what he needs to do to improve.
"Taking care of little details. I think that’s the biggest thing," said Marchand when asked about how to start playing better. "It will come. That’s how it is."
Marchand was lost on the details when he made one of the most costly mistakes of the night. Already backchecking to cover for Charlie McAvoy, Marchand took the left side to support Zdeno Chara against a streaking Vladimir Tarasenko. Problem is, Tarasenko got rid of the puck and it left Jaden Schwartz wide open on the other side, rushing 1-on-1 against Chara. A couple of rebounds later, Tarasenko backhanded the puck into the net to tie the game 2-2. The Blues pretty much dominated play from there on out.
St. Louis still has questionable depth when it comes to scoring. It still runs a largely unimaginative offense predicated on a muckraking forecheck and traffic shots from the point. They out-shot the Bruins 37-23 in the game, yet high-danger scoring chances were only 15-10 in their favor. Even with Wednesday's lackluster effort, the Bruins are generating a higher rate of legitimate scoring opportunities.
And that's where finishing and execution also became an issue. Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak combined for just seven shots on goal, and way more unnecessary passes. Similar issues have cropped up in prior series. Game 2 against the Blues felt like a low point in that department.
The majority of the line's time on the ice has come against the Blues' top line of Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Tarasenko. It's strength vs. strength and the Blues have outmuscled that matchup through two games.
"They just competed. Hard," Marchand said. "They won a lot of battles in our zone. They have a lot of good sticks, so they turn a lot of pucks over and created some offense off of that."
The Blues definitely got their forecheck rolling like they want to in Game 2. But it's still a largely unimpressive offense with not much skill beyond their own top line. All those shots and not many of them felt dangerous, including two that went in the net. The Blues have needed fortuitous bounces and mistakes by the Bruins to score.
In a weird way, Game 2 put an even bigger spotlight on the Bruins' clear personnel advantage. It takes a game that bad for the Blues to look that good. The B's simply didn't play up to the level they're capable of - like the final two periods of Game 1. They didn't make smart decisions with the puck, and when they did, they couldn't finish plays.
That all starts at the top. If and when the Bruins' No. 1 line establishes itself as the dominant force they've shown that they're capable of being, this series should shift wildly back in their favor. Until then, they're going to have to grind it out and hope that the puck doesn't keep bouncing the Blues' way.
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].