Bruins need more will and skill to extend series to Game 7
The Bruins put together a respectable, smart, intelligent, well-coached effort Friday night in their 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Garden.
No one can quibble much with the method of their play, or coach Bruce Cassidy’s line juggling that was aimed at putting a charge into the offense. But guess what? Everyone said much the same of the best-in-the-whole-wide-world Tampa Bay Lightning in their first-round series with Columbus, and the Bolts got their hat handed to them in four straight by the energized, jackhammer Blue Jackets.
Now the Bruins, down, 3-2, in their best-of-seven series, stand but 60 minutes from saying so long to another season. And their issue again in Game 5 was familiar: a failure to scrap their way to the front of the net, generate legit chances on goalie Frederik Andersen, manufacture the kind of divine, sustained mayhem that puts opponents on their heels and pucks in the net.
Way too polite, not enough purpose, short on urgency and pugnacity. That was the bottom line on the Bruins on a night, on home ice, they could have taken command of the series. That was the same bottom line in Games 1 and 3.
The Bruins aren’t short on polish, but they are short on purpose, tenacity, the will to get to pucks and do something with them. That attitude may be OK on a four- or five-game road trip in February. But here in April, it’s an EZ Pass to the playoff netherworld.
“I think they are doing a good job of keeping us to the outside,” said veteran center Patrice Bergeron, whose No. 1 line again was silenced. “We have to find a way to get to the inside a lot more. The goals that we’ve scored have been from the inside, also some rebounds, some really in tight.
“I guess there’s no other answers than that.”
Nope. Not now, with a potential elimination game Sunday afternoon in Toronto staring back at them.
Every game, every night (or afternoon) in today’s NHL is about speed and skill. The Leafs won on those elements on their two scoring plays in Game 5, each time moving the puck brilliantly on strikes by Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen.
The Bruins had a legit beef of the first goal, a Matthews snipe from the right wing faceoff dot, because it appeared forward Zach Hyman messed with Tuukka Rask’s personal space at the top of the crease as Matthews unloaded. But the goal stood, and overall, the Leafs on both scoring plays were slicker and faster on the attack than anything the Bruins showed all night long.
The Leafs, though, came up similarly short when it came to imposing will and manufacturing offense. Neither side dropped shoulders and hauled pucks to the net for hard hat goals. Neither side pressed the attack, picked up rebounds, made the goalies scramble and flop and dive back to the post for glove or paddle-down stops.
Ultimately, after watching the Bruins burn three full power plays, two of which were weaklings, the Leafs capitalized on two quick-strike plays and now stand at the cusp of moving on to Round 2 for the first time in Mike Babcock’s four years behind their bench.
“It’s zero-zero, and we’re comfortable in those games,” said Cassidy, noting it was scoreless after 40 minutes — only the second time this postseason that a game didn’t produce a goal in the first two periods. “Would we have rather come out and got the crowd into it with some big hits and action around the net? Of course. That’s the game plan. It didn’t go our way that way.”
No, it didn’t, just as it didn’t in Game 3 in Toronto, another polite and professional exercise that the Bruins lost, 3-2. Two nights later, as if reminded of the pluck and jam it takes to succeed in playoff hockey, they came out and pinned a 6-4 loss on the Leafs. It was 5-2 by early in the third.
Will alone often doesn’t win, just as skill and speed don’t always get the job done. But five games into this matchup with the Leafs, it’s clear the Bruins aren’t going to win without firing more shots, and matching it with an equal amount of fire in their bellies when attacking the net. Offense isn’t created by analysis. It grows organically, hydrated by sweat.
“I do believe the remedy is generating shots for rebounds,” said Cassidy. “and see if we can put them under duress in that regard.”
One hundred percent correct. Again, for a AAA road guide to playoff success, check out the Columbus series from the point the Blue Jackets fell into a 3-0 hold to the Bolts in Game 1.
Whatever razzle-dazzle was built into the Blue Jackets game was replaced by a straight line north-south attack that they took to the 62-win Bolts. The Blue Jackets weren’t scoring at will, but their determination, feistiness, and controlled surliness broke the Bolts down by the shift. By Game 4, the Bolts were that exquisite, well-sculpted sandcastle washed out to sea.
“If you’re not successful, at least you force them to go the full length of the ice,” said Cassidy, focusing on how an effective forecheck can be central to the remedy his club needs. “I just didn’t think we generated enough on net . . . when we did have chances to put it in there and go win the puck after. And force their goalie to make saves — he might do that, he might not. And I think that’s why we ended up struggling to score.”
The Game 6 game plan is simple: Get possession, force pucks to the net by all means possible, summon the work ethic to turn nothing into something.
And if not, it will end up a season when the Bruins turned something into a whole lot of nothing.