When the Boston Bruins returned to the ice on Jan. 1 with new-looking lines that were put together by coach Bruce Cassidy, there were some questions as to whether or not the new-look lines were going to work. After a couple of weeks, it was apparent that they would.
The Bruins became something they were not prior to their COVID-19 shutdown right before Christmas, a team that was three lines deep in production. In mid-February, Cassidy adjusted his lines again, this time moving Jake DeBrusk to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and the trio gained an instant connection. Cassidy kept his second and third lines primarily intact, which allowed the Black and Gold to pull away in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Despite their struggles with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2021-22 regular season in which they were outscored 16-1 in three games, there was some thought and hope that the Bruins could carry over their depth scoring into the First Round Playoff series. That has not been the case.
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Through the first five games against the Hurricanes, the Bruins find themselves returning home to the TD Garden for Game 6 Thursday night trailing 3-2 in the series. Why are they trailing? There are many reasons why they are one game from elimination, but the biggest might be the lack of depth scoring that they were getting in the regular season compared to what they have failed to get in the postseason.
Bruins Depth Scoring Numbers Not Enough
As has been the case in past seasons, the Bruins’ depth scoring has become non-existent against the Hurricanes. A lot of that has to do with what Carolina has been doing defensively and a lot of it has to do with the play of their two goalies, Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov. Both goalies have allowed just six goals apiece, with Raanta stopping 91 shots in three games, good enough for a 1.96 goals-against average (GAA) and a .942 save percentage (SV%). Both goalies have combined to frustrate the Bruins while No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen is out with a lower-body injury.
The Bruins’ scoring has been mostly confined to their top-six, or if you want to get technical, their top-three. After scoring just three goals in the first two games of the series in Carolina, Cassidy put back his top-line that he has rolled out for years in Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak. The trio responded with 16 points and in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, two Black and Gold wins that evened the series at 2-2.
After that, the only other goals scored in the two games in Boston were by Jake DeBrusk and Taylor Hall on the power play and a shorthanded tally from Charlie Coyle. Anyone not named Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak have combined for five goals in five games against the Hurricanes this series.
That will not win four games in a best-of-seven series against a team that has owned the Bruins since the puck was dropped in their first matchup back in October. On the flip side, Carolina’s scoring depth is what has Boston on the verge of elimination. The Metropolitan Division winners have got goals from 11 different players through the first five games. Nino Niederreiter and Seth Jarvis are leading the way with three goals each, but they also have got two goals and three assists from defenseman Jaccob Slavin and one goal and seven assist from fellow blueliner Tony DeAngelo. The Bruins? Well, they have one goal from defenseman Connor Clifton, two assists from Charlie McAvoy, and one from Brandon Carlo. That is not enough production from the defense to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Bruins Struggling to Score Even Strength Turning Into Big Difference in Series
Five of the 13 goals the Bruins have scored in the series have been on the power play, while one was shorthanded and one was into an empty-net in Game 4. That leaves Boston with six goals 5-on-5 in five games. Again, that’s not a recipe for success in the postseason.
The Bruins have had some chances at even strength, but have failed to capitalize, especially early in games. In all five games in the postseason and in the three regular-season games, the Hurricanes have scored the first goal in each game. Yes, Boston has had some chances to light the lamp early in games, but Raanta and Kochetkov have been up to the challenge. We have, however, seen this play out before, the Bruins have chances to get ahead, only to come up short and face a deficit before they are able to dent the scoreboard.
Carolina has scored 19 goals through the first five games, with four coming on the power play and three into empty nets. That leaves them with 12 5-on-5 goals, with one coming off of a shot from Vincent Trocheck that was banked in off of the back of Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark in Game 1 and young star Seth Jarvis getting credit for a second-period goal in Game 5 when Carlo’s clearing attempt hit DeBrusk and beat Jeremy Swayman. Hard work, and constant pressure in the offensive zone force turnovers and leads to some puck luck, something that can also be a difference in a best-of-seven series.
As the Bruins head home for Game 6, they can’t simply rely on the top line to bail them out and force a Game 7 back in Carolina. Unless someone not named Bergeron, Marchand or Pastrnak can supply offense, they could be facing a short six-game stay in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against a team that has had their number all season long.