Through six games of this series, the Bruins have blasted nine pucks off iron. They’ve shanked wide-open scoring chances.
If this series were set to music, “clank” and “whiff” would be on its soundtrack.
Perhaps it’s an inability to finish. Maybe it’s bad luck.
But the Bruins have to turn around their trick-or-treat offense (12 goals on home ice, three at the Bell Centre) Wednesday at TD Garden. Otherwise, winter will end with their hands still frozen and their beards shy of full caveman.
“We made some mistakes, for sure,” Daniel Paille said following an optional skate Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, they capitalized on their chances. We didn’t. We did lose by four. But it did seem like a closer game. We missed a couple chances that we need to bear down on.”
There is no button the Bruins can push to improve their luck or make their aim truer. If they continue to wield rubbery sticks in Game 7, their best option will be to increase their scoring opportunities. It’s a matter of math. The more chances you get, the higher the likelihood that some of those sniffs turn into goals.
From the start, the Bruins have to control the game, not chase it.
“Next game, we’ve just got to set the pace,” Matt Bartkowski said.
Here’s what the Bruins will have to do:
■ Execute cleaner breakouts.
Like all teams, the Bruins aren’t eager to spend much time in the defensive zone. They want to go back for pucks cleanly, provide support for the retriever, and use the neutral zone as a springboard. When the big boys on the first and third lines go full gas through center ice, no opponent can prevent them from crossing the offensive blue line with speed.
But the Canadiens forechecked effectively in Game 6. They were more aggressive than they were earlier in the series. They regularly pushed two forwards deep to hound the Boston defensemen.
Montreal’s third line executed a perfect forecheck on the first goal. When Torey Krug retrieved the puck behind the goal line, he didn’t have any good options. Rene Bourque took away Loui Eriksson as an outlet along the left boards. Lars Eller slammed down on Carl Soderberg swinging low between the circles. Then when Brian Gionta closed on him, Krug whipped a D-to-D pass that Kevan Miller couldn’t pick off the end boards.
The Bruins defensemen have to be quicker on pucks in their own zone. Their partners and forwards must give them better support. If the retriever gets into trouble, he has to make better decisions, such as eating it and waiting for help instead of throwing it away and risking a turnover.
If the Bruins can elude the first forechecking wave, they’ll have speed and numbers going the other way. Montreal’s defensemen will have to back up instead of keeping tight gaps. A cohesive, in-synch unit going up the ice swiftly causes problems.
“You can always do better,” Krug said. “They do a really good job of folding over and taking away your options.
“There were a couple times yesterday where I felt I was stranded on an island with the puck. You’ve just to get it out. You don’t always have to make a pretty play as long as you’re moving it forward. That’s what we’d like to do as a team. Just play that north-south game.”
■ Take advantage of last change.
The matchup the Bruins want is their No. 3 line against Montreal’s third defensive pairing. The Bruins have regularly controlled the puck, worked it down low in the danger areas, and backed up the No. 3 duo.
Montreal improved the tandem in Game 6. Coach Michel Therrien replaced slow-moving Douglas Murray with Nathan Beaulieu.
The 21-year-old played only 9:36, but Beaulieu made his ice time count. He assisted on Max Pacioretty’s game-breaking goal. He didn’t get caught chasing as much as Murray.
But Beaulieu is still a rookie. He will be playing his first Game 7 on hostile ice.
Mike Weaver, Beaulieu’s partner, has 28 blocked shots, second-most after Alexei Emelin (34). But Weaver regularly leaves his skates to block pucks. With some patience, the Bruins can take advantage of Weaver’s hit-the-deck approach.
■ Establish four-line rhythm.
The Bruins are a handful when they roll 12 hard-to-play-against forwards. They’re relentless. They don’t give opponents any fresh air.
But the four-line machine hasn’t shown up in this series. When the second and third lines applied pressure, the first and fourth units couldn’t sustain the momentum.
In Game 6, the top three lines had chances. But the fourth line couldn’t keep the rhythm going. Even with Paille playing with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton the last three games, the line with the sparkling playoff pedigree hasn’t played up to its history.
If the Bruins lose Game 7, it could be the end of the fourth line. Thornton will be an unrestricted free agent. If they win, the Bruins still might tweak the line to make it a better possession group.
■ Use their experience.
This will be the Bruins’ ninth Game 7 since 2008. Milan Lucic, Thornton, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask have been with the organization for the previous eight.
Experience matters. The Bruins understand the gravity of their situation. That’s important.
“I know we have a group in this locker room that’s been through a lot, Game 7s in overtime and both sides of it,” Krug said. “Whatever comes our way, we’re looking forward to it.”