ST. LOUIS — Are you feeling a little better about the Bruins’ top line now?
The explosive trio of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand were on the hot seat going into Saturday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Enterprise Center. The threesome’s impact on the first two games was minimal — an empty-netter for Marchand in Game 1, and a power play assist from Pastrnak in Game 2 — and the Bruins cannot survive long like that.
But Friday after practice, the B’s showed little concern for their own well-being and, apparently, no one else should have been. In the game after the B’s first playoff loss in a month, all three members of the line had a hand in the rather stunning 7-2 romp over the Blues. Bergeron scored a goal (the first one of the game) and had two assists, while Pastrnak also scored and Marchand chipped in with an assist.
After the game, Pastrnak was asked how much pressure the group was feeling to break through and he broke into his familiar chipped-tooth grin.
“I would say, from 1 to 10, two,” Pastrnak said.
Fair enough. For in these playoffs, the Bruins most definitely have not been the one-line team they were for the first half of the season and it unquestionably was a team win Saturday. Torey Krug had a four-point night. The B’s got goals from the third and fourth lines. Tuukka Rask made 27 saves, including a few big ones when the Blues got an early power play.
But the arrival of the top line in this series certainly was the most welcome news of the night.
While all of those points came on the Bruins’ perfect power-play — 4-for-4 on four shots — the line’s game was much more complete than that might indicate. The trio controlled play at 5-on-5 and spent much more time in the offensive zone.
“I thought they started well 5-on-5,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Pastrnak had a great look through the seam 5-on-5. They were back to their plays, recovering pucks, changing sides, making east-west passes and on the net. That’s typically their game, working their spots. And it maybe was their 5-on-5 play early (that) helped them get going on the power-play.”
Cassidy has spoken in the past about how the three players will go into the video room whenever the line has struggled, often with assistants Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco, and they’ve been able to detect where their game is off. They did so before the elimination game against Carolina and the line absolutely shredded the Hurricanes in that Game 4. They also did so before Saturday night’s game.
“When you have a bad game, you really don’t want to see it again. But this is hockey right now these days and there’s a lot of video and you have to use it to your advantage to get better,” Pastrnak said.
A lot of the concern heading into the game was the health of Bergeron. There was little doubt he would play in Game 3, but he did take a maintenance day Friday and, with the game pretty much in the bag, he played just under four minutes in the third period. Clearly, there’s something bothering him. How much is anyone’s guess. When asked if an improvement in his physical or mental state helped him play better, the ever-polite Bergeron came as close to being curt as he ever does.
“We simplified our game and we executed,” Bergeron said simply. End of story.
The B’s had gotten one PP goal in each of the first two games, but both of those came off the rush. But Saturday the PP looked more like the lethal weapon it has all season.
“I think maybe earlier we were trying to force plays too much and tonight we put the puck on net. When you do that, good things happen. But it was four different ways, the way we scored. We were trying to take what’s in front of us rather than forcing it,” Bergeron said.
The PP was especially important Saturday. The Blues looked drunk off the success their physicality brought them in Game 2 and they took some runs at the B’s. Brayden Schenn just missed a high hit on Pastrnak that, if he connected, could have knocked them both out of the series, Pastrnak with an injury and Schenn with a lengthy suspension. David Perron did what he does, which is run the goalie and sit on defensemen behind the play. They actually got away with quite a bit but the penalties they did take were costly.
“You have to take advantage,” said Marchand, who added the improvement was due to just cleaning up a few details. “At this time of year, you need your special teams to be good. You look at every series we’ve played and even the games in this series, special teams make a huge difference. We expect to be good. We hold ourselves to a big standard. And we were good tonight.”
At that, Marchand did his best to turn the page, with emphasis. The B’s are up 2-1 in the series, just two wins away from the Stanley Cup.
That’s exactly where they were six years ago, and they watched the Blackhawks skate around on TD Garden ice with the Cup.
Now, these Blues are not the 2013 Blackhawks, but they are no pushovers. And they’ve shown they know how to punch back, too.
“This game is over,” Marchand said. “It doesn’t mean anything for next game. It was no relevance to how it’s going to play out. So we’ve got to let it go and not worry about that one.”
But B’s fans surely went to bed Saturday night feeling a little more secure about their team’s Cup chances with their big boys in the fold.