They had to wait an extra day, but in the end, it was worth the wait for the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes. Scheduled to open Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Bruins and Hurricanes had their opening game moved back a day after the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets had their Game 1 go five overtimes.
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In the round-robin tournament, the Bruins did not resemble the same team that won 44 games during the shortened regular season and collected 100 points to capture the Presidents’ Trophy. After a winless tournament, Boston went from the top-seed to the fourth-seed in seven days.
Boston opened the first round of the playoffs with a much-needed 4-3 double-overtime win over the Hurricanes. More importantly, the Bruins saw positive signs they didn’t see in their three previous games and some still concerning trends that they need to fix moving forward. Here are three takeaways from their Game 1 victory.
1. Finally Production From the First Line
In their three round-robin tournament games against the Philadelphia Flyers, Lightning and Washington Capitals, the Bruins failed to get much production on the scoresheet from their top line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. In fact, the only point that line recorded was an assist by Bergeron in the second game against the Lightning.
Wednesday against the Hurricanes, the “Production Line” as they’re called, played a big role in the win. After Carolina grabbed a 1-0 first period lead, Marchand collected a loose puck off an offensive zone face-off and made a cross-ice pass to Rocket Richard Trophy co-winner Pastrnak who was able to one-time the pass over the shoulder of Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek to tie the game.
In the second overtime, the line connected to score the game-winning goal and again it was Marchand, who had 59 regular-season assists, who set up the goal. Leading the rush into the Hurricanes zone, Marchand drew both Carolina defensemen and found Bergeron alone in the right circle. Bergeron settled the pass and calmly beat Mrazek inside the far post for his fourth career playoff overtime goal.
If the Bruins are going to make a deep run in the postseason after last season’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they will need to continue to get production from their top three forwards. After just one assist in the round-robin, they had two goals against the Hurricanes’ that led to a double-overtime win and a 1-0 series lead.
2. Fourth Line Shined
It’s unusual for a fourth line to see some serious ice time in the playoffs, but in Game 1, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy turned to his fourth line for a spark. Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly had their best game since the season pause and delivered a much-needed key shift.
Kuraly led the way with 17:34 minutes of ice-time, while Wagner played 17:12 and Nordstrom logged 15:29. The trio had eight shots on net, with Wagner leading the way with five. Their most important shift of the game was early in the third period after the Bruins regained the lead at 3-2 on a David Krejci goal just 59 seconds into the final period.
Carolina applied their best-sustained pressure after the goal for nearly three minutes before Cassidy sent his fourth line on the ice. They immediately relieved the pressure, tilted the ice and nearly doubled the lead when Kuraly found Wagner alone at the side of the net. His shot was stopped by Mrazek, but their one-minute shift and aggressive forecheck turned the tide back into the Bruins favor.
3. Power Play Still Struggling
During the regular season, the Bruins had the second-ranked power-play unit, behind only the Edmonton Oilers. Since they arrived in Toronto, they have looked nothing like the dangerous unit they were before the season pause on March 12.
In three round-robin games, the power play went a combined 0-for-9. Against the Hurricanes, things did not get better. They failed to score on their four opportunities, including one in overtime. It was not a case of them being frustrated by Mrazek, but it was the lack of execution. They were sloppy entering the zone, made bad passes and bad decisions.
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Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour challenged the Bruins’ second goal of the game in the second period by Charlie Coyle that gave them a 2-1 lead. Brind’Amour lost the challenge and the Hurricanes were assessed a penalty. Instead of getting some breathing room with a power-play goal, Pastrnak turned the puck over at the Hurricanes blue line and Carolina’s Brock McGinn pounced on the giveaway and tied the game on a breakaway.
Pastrnak led the Bruins with 20 power-play goals during the season. Torey Krug and Bergeron each had 26 assists on the man advantage and Marchand had 5 goals and 23 assists. One of the Bruins failures in the round-robin was lack of power-play goals. If they are going to advance by the Hurricanes and move deeper into the playoffs, they need to solve their power-play woes and do it quickly.
Big Win Before Quick Turnaround
After three disappointing showings in Toronto and being delayed an extra day by the Blue Jackets and Lightning five-overtime thriller, the Bruins got the monkey off their back with their first win North of the border in Game 1 against the Hurricanes. With Game 2 just over 24 hours away, the Bruins can take early control of the series with a second straight victory.