For the first time in what feels like a decade, the Bruins are preparing for the postseason with two strong forward lines at the top of their 12-man grouping. We know that Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has no doubts about the effectiveness of his high-powered first line with Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and every game seems to come with a new trick unveiled by the Taylor Hall-bolstered second line with David Krejci and Craig Smith.
Beneath that line, however, there seems to be nothing but questions.
And the answer the Bruins need just might be Jake DeBrusk. Yes, the same DeBrusk who has had a miserable 2021 across the board, and has at times both looked and sounded the part in addition to the stat-line donuts.
I know, I know. We’ve been here before. Especially with DeBrusk. It seems that every game that comes with some sort of production from DeBrusk is followed with the “is this the start of his run?!” talk. Well, consider this another round of that exact question/hope/prayer/Hail Mary or whatever else you wanna call it. Because there’s no doubt that this season’s best shot of adrenaline for DeBrusk came when he finally found a bounce and break that ended up in the back of the opposition’s net by way of a breakaway finish in Thursday’s 4-0 victory over the Rangers.
Jake DeBrusk breaks through on the breakaway.— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 7, 2021
3-0 Bruins. pic.twitter.com/MWZd5fBvGs
The goal didn’t come with a signature DeBrusk celebration — that alone should tell you that this hasn’t been your typical year for the fourth-year Bruin — but it did get the entire Boston bench buzzing.
“It’s awesome,” Charlie McAvoy said of seeing DeBrusk beat a goalie for his first goal since Apr. 10. “Everyone gets excited on the bench and in the room when you see a guy break through. I know that position; I was in it last year. And seeing just the genuine excitement for guys who were slumping a bit. But, credit to all the guys, like when you’re not maybe scoring goals, you bring something else to the table to pull on the rope. And everyone’s been doing that.”
Thursday was perhaps DeBrusk’s best post-deadline example of that, too. He was driving to the net on almost every shift, he was forcing turnovers, and he drew two penalties without any sort of extra embellishment. These are the things that get his motor going, and help build the confidence that almost always leads to tangible results in the box score for No. 74.
And it’s exactly what this bottom six could use if the Bruins could if they’re to go on a deep run this season.
As the Bruins learned in 2011 when their third line helped power them to a first-round series win and later rose to the occasion and up a line or two when injuries struck in the fourth round, and again in 2019 when deadline adds Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson helped push the Bruins while the second line struggled, depth is the name of the game. And every Cup winner has that third-line talent whose performance goes down as the X-factor over the course of a four-round run.
This is where DeBrusk (14 goals and 23 points in 49 career playoff games) has a natural leg up over guys like a Nick Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman, the 2021 version of Coyle, and wild card options like Ondrej Kase. For all of his struggles this year, the idea of DeBrusk getting hot at the right time isn’t this impossible scenario. Especially when the ice breaks like it did Thursday.
Nor is the Bruins’ ask from DeBrusk anything out of this world, as he proved with his efficient-as-hell 14:46 effort.
“We’re trying to get [DeBrusk] to just help us win,” said Cassidy. “The goal [Thursday], obviously a good read by him to get behind their D on a turned over puck. We’re in D-zone coverage, did a good job, a good stick, started with Hall, and Krejci saw Jake go. I mean, teams will do that in today’s game quite a bit; If there’s a turnover, away you go, see if you can catch the other team [and] we did. Good move by Jake had a similar opportunity the other night in Jersey but the goalie made the save.”
If DeBrusk can be the 2021 version of 2011 Michael Ryder, a player who burst on the Boston scene as a second liner with Krejci but ultimately made his greatest impact on the third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley for an unforgettable run, then the Bruins will be pleased. If he can be what Blake Coleman was for the Lightning in 2020, then the Bruins will be happy.
Hell, if he can just be the DeBrusk the Bruins had in the 2018 playoffs, for that matter, they’ll be thrilled.
And DeBrusk, who has admitted that the game simply isn’t fun when you’re struggling, will feel the same.
“I know we got a lot of guys out there having fun. We’ve had an up-and-down year, but we still win a lot more than we lose [and] we’re going to the playoffs. So, I hope Jake’s demeanor or mood is that he’s excited to do that with the rest of the group,” Cassidy offered. “At the end of the day, if he can pitch in with some goals and help us win in other areas of the game, then I’ll have more fun coaching and hopefully he’ll have more fun playing.”
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.