By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It was easy to do the math on Patrice Bergeron's line through four games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Zero points at 5-on-5. Through five games, it's still pretty easy because the total is still zero - and now the Bruins are on the brink of elimination.
Is this top line really going to bow out like this?
The narrative has continued to grow over the course of the series. Are the Blues simply the better team? Are they deeper than the Bruins, deeper than people like me gave them credit for entering the series, even during it?
The answer is still no. Brayden Schenn is not better than Bergeron. Jaden Schwartz is not better than Brad Marchand. Those guys do deserve credit for playing better, but they are not better period.
And while the Blues' defense is very good and continues to limit the Bruins' ability to get to the middle of the ice or the front of the net, they are not "hold the most dynamic line in hockey to zero 5-on-5 points throughout an entire series" good. That's not Nicklas Lidstrom and Doug Harvey out there.
But the reality is setting in, now that the Blues are one win away from grinding and defending their away to a Stanley Cup. If the Bruins lose this series, it will be because the top line never pulled its weight like they should.
Through five games, the Bergeron line has combined for 47 shot attempts at 5-on-5. Thirty-six of them have hit the net. None have gone in. The only time the line has shown any legitimate effectiveness is on the power play during Game 3, and clearly they can't depend on those opportunities anymore. They even went 0-for-3 on the man advantage on Thursday.
Marchand, in particular, has not scored a single point at 5-on-5 for 11 straight Stanley Cup Final games. That goes back to Game 7 in 2011 against the Canucks.
Their futility has been a combination of the Blues defense, goalie Jordan Binnington, and their own bad decisions with the puck. But even against this Blues team playing their best hockey, this line should absolutely, without question have more than zero 5-on-5 points in five effing games. So through all the other B.S. that has peppered this series, the Bruins' black hole of even-strength production from their best players is what has backed them all the way against the wall.
The silver lining, here, is that the Bruins went to the brink earlier in this very playoff. And they played worse in Game 5 against the Maple Leafs than they did on Thursday against the Blues. They still battled back to win two in a row and advance.
"We’ve been in that situation before, so we got to lean on our experience and be ready for Game 6 and leave it all on the line," Bergeron told reporters after the game.
Problem is, the top line didn't score much at 5-on-5 in those final two wins against Toronto, either. David Pastrnak assisted on a Jake DeBrusk goal in the second period of Game 6. It's unlikely they can survive the same kind of disappearing act against the Blues and rally to win this time.
Frustration over the Bruins boiled over last night with myself and my tag team partner, Ty Anderson. As we got up to head for the locker room, Ty turned to me and said something to the effect of "We should be heading to overtime right now." We both morphed into irrational, despondent fans as we waited for the T. If the Bruins' top line is going to be this ineffective, if they're not going to show up, just put us out of our misery and end it in Game 6 on Sunday. Don't even risk making us sit through another night of nothingness and the Blues hoisting the Cup in your own building.
That's why I find it hard to believe that this line is really going to just let this lumbering, unskilled, old-fashioned Blues team shut them down for an entire series. But they've run out of room for error. The awakening has to happen now, and it has to happen at 5-on-5 because clearly the officials don't want to get too involved anymore.
Enough is enough for this line. The next two games are massive for their legacies, particularly Bergeron and Marchand. It will either be the final whimpers of a colossal letdown in perhaps their last shot at a Stanley Cup, or the latest example of the resiliency that this team has shown throughout the season and the playoffs.
But the next time the top line shows any real resiliency in this series will be the first.
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].