The Boston Bruins pulled out a bumpy but gutsy win in Ottawa to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday. After a strong first period, the Bruins failed to register a single shot in the second frame, only to score two in the third to secure a comeback victory in the opening draw.
While Boston’s third-period comeback was impressive, the Bruins can’t rely on one-period wins throughout this series. They especially can’t afford another shot drought like they suffered in the second period, as they’ll need a more complete effort to put Ottawa deeper in the hole.
Here are a few things the Bruins can do to build on their early series lead.
Beat the 1-3-1 as a Team
If you’ve watched the Bruins take on the Senators this season, or if you’ve read a series preview, then you’ve heard about the dreaded 1-3-1 forecheck that Ottawa has implemented against the Bruins this season. To be frank, the Senators have owned the Bruins with the forecheck all year.
The much-feared forecheck is a big reason the Bruins have struggled offensively against the Senators this season—they scored just six goals in four regular season games against Ottawa.
In the first period of Game 1, the Bruins did a fairly decent job at working their way through the forecheck. The second period, however, was a trainwreck.
Boston’s failure to register a shot was a direct result of their inability to crack the 1-3-1. Instead of approaching the neutral zone as a unit, the Bruins looked like they all had their own plan when it came to rushing through the forecheck. It didn’t work out well.
I’m going to make this sound easier than it is, but there is a way to break the forecheck—and the Bruins caught on in the third. You need to advance as a unit. The first player in the 1-3-1 forecheck is going to force the puck to the outside. From there, the idea is to trap the puck carrier on the outside.
To prevent getting trapped, the Bruins need to support the puck down the middle of the ice. By having a player cut through the middle with speed, a lane opens up in the 1-3-1 to move through. It’s okay to make small passes to weave through the trap—in fact, it’s one of the best ways to open up a lane, especially if you can hit a player cutting through with speed.
In the situation that the Senators step up to prevent this pass, the puck needs to be dumped into the zone since Ottawa’s players will be flat-footed from stepping up.
Too many times in Game 1, the Bruins tried to make one long pass through the zone or tip a dump-in without pressuring Ottawa. With the 1-3-1 trap, that leads to turnovers.
The key is to make smart and quick decisions and to support the puck. If the Bruins can do that, then they should have the upper hand in the series.
Be Smart With Offensive Possession
When the Bruins did get the puck in the zone in the second frame (and that was awfully rare), they wasted their possession, for the most part. As I mentioned above, the B’s failed to register a single shot on goal in the period. However, they did attempt 16 shots. So what was the issue? Shot selection.
The Senators blocked 21 shots in Game 1, and the Bruins missed the net on a couple of solid opportunities. Again, I’m making it sound easier than it is, but the Bruins need to be smarter with their possession.
That need only intensifies when you struggle to gain offensive zone possession in the first place.
Boston looked very threatening on the man-advantage since they had the space to move the puck around. When they’re at even strength, the B’s need to do a better job of creating space. Ottawa was very structured defensively for most of Game 1, and the Bruins struggled to create passing and shooting lanes in the zone.
Boston has plenty of players who are excellent at creating space. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, just to name a few, specialize in moving the puck and their bodies to open up room in the opponent’s defense. Boston needs to make quick, smart passes, and they need to be comfortable moving in the zone.
Cassidy on Bruins: “It wasn’t always pretty tonight, but they defended well when they had to and got better moving puck as game went along.”
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) April 13, 2017
Some structure is good, but it needs to be able to adapt to the defense that is covering it. One of the things that Bruins ex-head coach Claude Julien was criticized for was playing too structured in the offensive zone. Since Bruce Cassidy has taken over, the Bruins have done a better job being flexible offensively and adjusting to their opponents to create scoring opportunities.
At times during Game 1, the Bruins did just that. They lost it in the second period, however, and they can’t afford to do that again.
Keep up With Ottawa’s Speed on Defense
Finally, Boston’s defense needs to be able to keep up with the speed of the Senators. Ottawa can play a quick game offensively—especially when Erik Karlsson gets a full head of steam going—and the Bruins can’t afford to be caught flat-footed when the Sens enter the zone with speed.
For one, Boston’s forwards need to pressure the Senators—Karlsson in particular—to prevent them from isolating Boston’s defense with speed. At the same time, the Bruins’ defense needs to be quick on their feet and stick with the Senators when they try to speed past on the outside.
Their inability to do that is what led to the only goal the Bruins gave up in the first game.
The Bruins relied on Tuukka Rask a little bit too much to make some tough saves off the rush, and he was up to the task. But it would be in their best interest to take some of the heat off of their netminder.