The Boston Bruins fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday by a score of 3-2. This puts them at a 2-1 deficit in the series. A Game 4 loss would create a tough hill for Boston to climb.
The Maple Leafs outplayed the Bruins, much like they did in Game 1. They were the faster, more physical team and didn’t give their opponent much ice to work with. When needed, goaltender Frederik Andersen was there and managed to steal a number of goals that could have pushed the game into overtime.
After a superb Game 2, Boston’s follow-up was not worthy of such an adjective. Toronto has come up with a formula to thwart the Bruins’ biggest offensive weapons. As a result, the boys in black and gold have to find alternate paths to victory, and one of those paths is shaking up their lines.
Pastrnak Should Move to the Second Line
The trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has been lethal all season. However, when the second line has struggled, they’ve moved Pastrnak down to play with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. It’s been brought up throughout the 2018-19 campaign, but the strategy hasn’t gone through anything more than a beta test at this point.
When this recipe has been put into action, it often hasn’t been for more than a period or two of play. It’s a change that should be considered due to the way Toronto has contained Boston’s first line (specifically Pastrnak) through the first 180 minutes of the series. He has been a huge contributor to the B’s success this season and his offensive silence is noticeable.
Toronto’s defense has stood the Bruins up at the blue line on nearly every shift. Clean break-ins had become a rarity so the Bruins’ were forced to revert to the dump-and-chase method as Game 3 dragged on. When they did get lengthy possessions in the Maple Leafs’ end, the boys in blue took away one of the top trio’s biggest strengths: cross-zone passing.
A huge chunk of the first line’s goals this season have come off either the rush or a crisp pass that forces the goaltender to move post-to-post. The Leafs clogged the space between the two face-off circles, only allowing Boston to pass the puck along the borders of the zone. It sounds like a simple tactic, but it was effective.
Who Would Move Up?
Indicated by their practice lines on Tuesday, the Bruins will be standing pat with their roster for Game 4 – minus the pending return of Marcus Johansson and John Moore. Still, a shakeup may be needed if Boston wants to take a game at Scotiabank Arena.
If Johansson is to return on Wednesday, it seems as though David Backes would be the odd man out once again. Johansson hasn’t looked decent on the third line alongside Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen, but moving him up in the lineup could breed some positive results. However, Heinen and rookie Karson Kuhlman should also be considered for the honor.
Heinen has experience playing alongside Bergeron and Marchand, namely when Pastrnak was out with an injury for a stretch of the season. While he hasn’t necessarily earned it this postseason, that prior chemistry could be a good building block. Plus it’s pretty hard to have a bad game alongside those two elite players.
Kuhlman has been playing very well which is exactly why he has found himself in a top-six role. His biggest strength is his two-way game and he has helped out in that regard. The former NCAA champion has also sniffed out scoring chances and points as a result.
Looking ahead to future seasons, Kuhlman’s role will likely be that of a two-way forward in the bottom-six. Pinning him alongside Coyle and Johansson could be pretty exciting, especially due to the diverse set of skills such a line would bring to the table. That would push Heinen up to the first line, in this case.
Moving Pastrnak down to the second line isn’t a demotion of the player but a improvement of the team. Toronto has been able to focus on the B’s biggest threat far too easily, pinning their top skaters against Boston’s. Splitting up the elite trio would spread the wealth, and possibly spark something from within the team – something the Bruins desperately need as they look to tie up the series at two apiece.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.