By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Jake DeBrusk is the third-best winger on the Boston Bruins.
Take David Pastrnak, who missed his third straight playoff game Monday with the “unfit to participate” designation, out of the equation and DeBrusk is their second-best winger. If last year taught us anything, it’s that the Bruins aren’t accomplishing a thing without these players being exactly that when the moment calls for it.
A 50-50 play in the third period of Game 4, and with the Bruins in desperate need of an ice-tilting strike on James Reimer to climb their way out of a two-goal deficit, gave DeBrusk that opportunity. And No. 74 grabbed it with a throwback to 2018 feel. (Related: We are all a billion years old when we consider 2018 a throwback.)
“I kind of got lucky on the first one, I’d like to say,” DeBrusk offered.
Yeah, maybe. Definitely, actually. There’s no reason for Reimer, a former Maple Leaf, to come flying out of his net and tempt fate like this. Even Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who seemed straight-up miserable after his team’s third-period gag, didn’t seem to understand why he did that. But these are the kind of plays that make DeBrusk such a dynamic threat for the Bruins, and one of the biggest keys in the Black and Gold’s quest for Stanley Cup redemption.
“He kind of thrives when he gets a goal, gets a bounce,” Brad Marchand noted. “He feeds off of that and gets a ton of confidence. That’s when he’s at his best. We just knew he needed one and he’s been all around it. He’s been playing really well. Has had a lot of really good, prime opportunities that he normally puts in. He came up big when we need it. He did a great job.
“He really stepped up in a big way. I love the fire even – he starts battling a lot harder and competing harder and he was more engaged in the game. A great game by him tonight. We needed him to step up and he did and came through when it mattered.”
This is something that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has talked about in the past: DeBrusk’s ability to play his game at a high-level, and in so many different ways, when a bounce goes his way. You notice an uptick in his battle along the boards, one-on-one movements, and an extra level of his creativity in his offensive attack. That creativity helped get Boston on the board with what turned out to be the game-winner, too, with a beauty of a fake from in-tight to fool Reimer for the B’s fourth goal.
DeBrusk also finished the night with a team-leading six individual scoring chances at five-on-five, which was twice as many as the next closest Bruin (Marchand), at three.
“He’s a guy that measures himself, probably too much, just with his goal scoring,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk’s game. “He can bring other things and hound pucks and make plays and be a net-front presence on the power play, we’ve changed that up a little bit, but there’s other ways you can contribute, especially in the playoffs. But we need some goals, let’s face it, we’re having a tough time, missed some open nets early on and five on five scoring had been a few games.
“So good for him, happy for him. Sometimes he gets streaky, so hopefully this sets him off.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 final over the Hurricanes…
Charlie Coyle gets bumped up to Bergeron Line
The Bruins generated two high-percentage net-front chances in the first period with Anders Bjork riding with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in place of the absent David Pastrnak. Bjork failed to land a shot on net in both instances.
That, with the Bruins at that point starved for five-on-five production, wasn’t going to cut it. Especially when considering Bjork’s previous outing, which included three penalties in just over seven minutes of time on ice.
The moment simply seemed a little too big for Bjork, especially against one of the top d-pairings in the NHL during the regular season, and prompted Cassidy to move Charlie Coyle to the right side of his “perfect” duo.
“We needed offense and he’s a more proven scorer than Anders,” Cassidy said of the in-game switch. “Anders is playing hard, pursuing pucks, that’s a big ask of him going against top line, against [Jakob] Slavin and [Dougie] Hamilton, too, so we just felt that we’re having trouble scoring. We feel we’re defending really hard, not giving up much, but we do need some offense to give us a boost so that’s why we put Charlie there.”
In search of offense, the Bruins fed that Marchand-Bergeron-Coyle a ton of offensive-zone looks, which resulted in an 8-2 shot advantage for the B’s with these guys on the ice at five-on-five, and team-best 68.42 percent attempt percentage.
With Coyle moved up to the first line, the Bruins moved Sean Kuraly to the middle of a third line that featured Jack Studnicka and Bjork on the wings.
The Connor Clifton Restart
If a five-month break helped one player, it’s Connor Clifton.
2019-20 felt like a somewhat lost regular season for the 25-year-old cowboy of the B’s backend. It never felt like Clifton was able to capture the perfect three-zone unpredictability that made him such a weapon for the Bruins last year, and an injury that shelved him for nearly three months didn’t help. But since things moved to Toronto, Clifton has been on fire.
On the board with a goal and assist in Monday’s victory, Clifton’s Toronto run now includes two points, a plus-2 rating, and 13 hits in 43:35 of play. (Break those hits down per his ice-time and Clifton is averaging 17.89 hits per 60 minutes, which is the second-most among all playoff defensemen with at least three games played.)
This is absolutely the best he’s played this season. And with such a limited career sample, perhaps ever at the NHL level.
“Honestly, I’ve been ready,” Clifton said. “I’ve been preparing physically and mentally for the past five months. It was just about getting an opportunity. I tried to just compete and play hard and was fortunate to get a goal tonight.”
The Charlie McAvoy Tracker
In case you’re wondering, Charlie McAvoy is now up to a staggering 106:33 of total ice-time since the 16-team 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs started. That’s the 10th-most among all NHL players, and it’s worth mentioning that six of the nine players ahead of them are on either the Blue Jackets and Lightning, y’know, the team that played a five-overtime game to begin the postseason. (The Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo, Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin, and the Stars’ Miro Heiskanen are the three non-Tampa and Columbus in the top 10.)
He’s been worth every second and more, too, and set the tone for the Black and Gold’s comeback with his absolutely massive hit on Jordan Staal, with Connor Clifton on the team’s very next shot.
“He’s got a lot of meat over there,” DeBrusk said of McAvoy’s hit. “I didn’t actually see the hit live, but the reaction of the bench. Anytime – it’s so weird without fans, to be honest with you. Anytime there’s a big play or a good scoring chance, the only way you know is by the bench reaction. It was a big hit and it was a good moment for us. That’s when we’re coming hard.”
“All I’m thinking is to try and separate a man from the puck and try get us possession back as quick as possible so we can play offense and try and tie the game up,” McAvoy said of the boom. “That was really my only thought process. The game moves so fast and I just wanted to deliver a clean check and just do my job.”
And this has been about as strong a start as you could’ve hoped for from Boston’s future on the backend.
How should Bruins approach Game 5?
With a 3-1 series lead, I’m fascinated to see how the Bruins approach Game 5.
It seems likely that Jaroslav Halak will get the net, even after struggling with a 16-of-19 night in the B’s crease. Cassidy already talked about Halak getting some extra work to fully prepare for Game 5. But should Halak falter in Game 5, the Bruins will have a quick turnaround Game 6 the very next day. That’d give Halak two starts in as many days, something he’s done just once in the last 21 months. And while I say this knowing there’s almost no chance of this happening (it has to be below five percent), if there was ever a time to test Daniel Vladar out, it would be Game 5. But Vladar, of course, has never appeared in an NHL game. That hurts his cause for an appearance.
The B’s message: take care of Game 5 and you won’t have to worry about Game 6.
Up front, does a 3-1 lead change the plans with David Pastrnak? By now, it’s obvious that Pastrnak is working through an injury of some sort. Is he good to go by Wednesday? Maybe. He was on the ice on Sunday and was considered a 50-50 chance for Game 4. That did not happen. But maybe a two-game lead in the series allows the B’s to take their time with No. 88.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.