ST. LOUIS – Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said he believes his No. 1 line will play its best game of the Stanley Final in Saturday’s Game 3.
That’s not a prediction or wishful thinking as much as it is a necessity.
Much has been made about how the St. Louis Blues and Bruins both have impressive depth. But even with depth, neither can win the Cup without receiving significant contributions from its best players. So far, the Blues’ top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko is having a major impact on the scoresheet.
The Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is not.
The usually reliable Bruins trio is a combined minus-7 in the first two games with one empty-net goal. The three combined for seven shots and no points in Game 2. By contrast, Schenn had nine shots, a goal and an assist in the first two games. Tarasenko has scored in each game. Schwartz has two assists.
Nineteen players have scored for the Bruins this postseason, but Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have scored 36.5% of the team's goals. They are the engine that drives the offense but have sputtered during 5-on-5 play in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.
Bruins left wing Brad Marchand said of the Blues defense: "It's been pretty tight." (Photo: Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports)
AGITATOR: Brad Marchand is more than a 'little ball of hate'
SUSPENSION: Oskar Sundqvist disciplined for boarding Matt Grzelcyk
CAPITALS: Kuznetsov cleared after appearance in video that showed lines of white powder
“You have to credit the opposition,” Cassidy said. “They have done a good job. The D men have long sticks and they are mobile, smart. Whoever has played against them – it’s been Schenn and two or three different guys – have done a good job tracking back so they can’t make a lot happen in front of the (defense).”
It will be even more important for the Bruins' top line to rise up in Game 3 because playing at home gives the Blues the last line change, meaning they can have the matchup they want.
Cassidy was able to avoid specific matchups in Boston, and the line still didn't get going. It will be more challenging in St. Louis.
“It’s been pretty tight,” Marchand conceded, adding, “We just have to keep doing the same thing, working, tightening up a little bit. We aren’t concerned, no matter how much you want to talk about it.”
It’s being talked about because those three players have been such a dominant force in the postseason and carry the higher expectations that come from being stars. For most players, two games without excelling is normal. For these guys, it’s cause for concern.
St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said a team shuts down top lines by committee, not by one player or one line.
“I don’t think, the first two games, we were trying too hard to match lines or anything,” he said.
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo says the key is to tire out Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak by making them work for every second of puck possession.
“Like any high-end players in the league, they want to carry the puck over the blue line,” he said. "The more you can make them put it in and make them work to get it, that taxes them a little bit more than them carrying it in, setting up on their own. I think that's an area as a group that we thrive on. It's not just the defensemen, it's back pressure from the forwards. There's more to it than just the defensemen standing up and making them dump it in.”
Cassidy has several reasons for believing his top players will thrive in Game 3, including the fact they had dangerous moments down low in the first two games without scoring. Also, this season, the line hasn’t often gone long without having a strong game.
“They came in in good spirits,” Cassidy said Friday after practice. “They know they need to be better. They’ve admitted it. … I know them well enough, seeing them in the playoffs, they will eventually get to their game and I believe it will be tomorrow."
Cassidy has enough confidence in them to make that prediction. But he’s also a realist.
“But I’m sure St. Louis will have a lot to say about that,” he said.
Source: Read Full Article