The Boston Bruins have dug themselves into a deep hole, and they are going to need some big shovels if they hope to climb their way out.
After a crushing 1-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Bruins will be facing elimination when the puck drops on Friday evening. This series has been tightly contested, and the Bruins have seen the last three games slowly slip away. If they hope to stay alive in the race for the Stanley Cup, three key players will have to step up their games.
First and foremost, after a 39-goal and 85-point career year, Brad Marchand has not played well. The NHL’s fifth-leading scorer has been held to just one point through the first four playoff contests. His one point was the game-winning goal late in the third period of Game 1, but overall he has not impacted games the way he did throughout the regular season.
There is an immense amount of pressure on the veteran forward, but elite stars are supposed to shine on big stages, and he has been dull so far. Following a loss in Game 3, Marchand stated, “I would say I have to be better; I haven’t been at my best so far, but guys have done a really good job of stepping up.”
Although he failed to capitalize on two quality scoring chances, Game 4 was his best performance of the series. Despite the solid effort, merely generating scoring opportunities will not propel the Bruins to victories. At the end of the day, he needs to get his name on the scoresheet if the Bruins have any hope of keeping their season going past Friday night.
Considering he has 40 points over 70 career playoff games, Marchand has proven he has the talent and ability to produce in high-pressure situations. The fact he has not produced more than one point this round is equally surprising and disappointing. If he can lead an offensive charge, the Bruins will more than likely have the success they expected to see against the Senators.
Success in the NHL playoff race usually starts and ends between the pipes. When a goaltender is locked in, he has the ability to steal multiple games and rounds. There is very little room for error over the course of a seven-game series, which puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of netminders.
Tuukka Rask has been average in net for the Bruins to this point of the series. He put in a dominant performance in the Game 1 victory, followed it up with two decent showings, and was once again solid in his most recent outing. The key injuries on the Bruins’ blue line have not helped him, but the Bruins will need him to be nothing short of stellar throughout the rest of this series.
Depending on who you ask, Rask has not truly cost the Bruins any of their three losses to the Senators. Although he could be better, it is impossible to point to Rask and say he is solely at fault for the series deficit. If the Bruins hope to win three straight games, he will have to find another gear and steal victories, or he will be making early tee time reservations at the local golf course.
Placing Patrice Bergeron on a list of players needing to elevate their game feels completely unnatural, but here we are. He has tallied one goal and two points this postseason and much like Rask, he has not played poorly. The reason he appears on this list is because the Bruins’ backs are against the wall and he has been able to bail the Bruins out of tough situations in the past.
When the puck drops on Game 5, the eyes of fans and players will be on Bergeron to once again pull the team out of a deep hole. He always plays well, so it seems unfair to keep asking more of him, but it is a difficult role he is used to.
If he can generate plays in all three zones, he will be able to elevate the players around him and give the team a much-needed boost of confidence. On top of that, he will have to find the back of the net in key situations, something the Bruins have been lacking for a majority of the series so far. Fans should not be worried about Bergeron, but the Bruins will certainly have to depend on him to elevate the team.
Anthony Pagliarulo is a Boston Bruins contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a Massachusetts native and a Worcester State University alumni. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @APags87.