What we learned: Blues land an OT counterpunch to even series
The Boston Bruins had a case of the Blues in Game 2.
St. Louis pushed back against the Black and Gold following its Game 1 loss. The Bruins, playing without Matt Grzelcyk for a good two-thirds of Wednesday’s tilt following a hit from behind by Oscar Sundqvist, felt taxed and lacked fundamentals despite leading twice during a wild first period.
Tuukka Rask gave his team a chance to win as the Bruins chased things after Vladimir Tarasenko tied things up with his 10th goal of the playoffs at 14:55 of the first. His effort went for naught as Carl Gunnarson, who hit the post late in the third period, redeemed himself in overtime with his first career postseason tally.
“They came harder than the last game,” Charlie Coyle, one of Boston’s two goal scorers, said following the 3-2 OT loss. “They had pace, they hit and they were all over the puck. We expected that. I don’t think our play was up to par with theirs and you see they get the result they earned.”
Here’s what we learned as the early series results went as scripted during the first two games between two evenly matched hockey clubs.
The Blues found a formula of success against the top line
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak made things look easy more often than not. But the ‘perfection line’ is anything but perfect through the first two games.
The patented trio combined for seven of Boston’s 23 shots on goal in Game 2. They’ve run into a potent St. Louis defensive pairing in Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko. The Blues top line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Tarasenko have three goals going up against Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak.
Bruce Cassidy moved the Bergeron line away from Schenn, Schwartz and Tarasenko. But the Blues still chipped away at the top line with the likes of Ryan O’Reilly, a fellow Selke finalist with Bergeron, leading the way.
“Obviously they’re a dynamic line; they’ve got some great firepower and we’re just trying to make it as difficult as we can on these guys. Not give them momentum and just being smart, being disciplined with the puck at the right times,” O’Reilly said. “But again, we’ve got a lot of work left and we have to be ready for their adjustments.”
The top line only has one goal to show for the first two games — a Marchand empty-netter in Game 1. The Bruins found contributions on the bottom six with the likes of Coyle, Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly lightning the lamp in the first two games.
Both teams expect a long series, but the Bruins need to get their top line going. Their unusual passive decision-making put them in a tough spot. They can’t afford that as the series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.
“Yeah, we need to be better,” Marchand said. “Personally, I wasn’t good the last two games, so, you know, we can’t be playing like that.”
The challenges without Matt Grzelcyk
The NHL Department of Player Safety will reportedly take a further look at Sundqvist’s hit on Grzelcyk. But that’s hardly a consolation prize the Bruins need.
The Bruins had a chance to make Sundqvist and the Blues pay. They didn’t.
Boston’s power play mimicked its Game 1 performance with a 1-for-5 outing. But unlike Monday, where the Blues felt taxed with their penalty kill, the Bruins didn’t showcase fluid puck movement or develop quality chances with the man advantage.
The Blues had the same amount of shorthanded shots on goal — three — as the Bruins’ power play. That’s not a winning formula on any given night, let alone a Stanley Cup Final outing.
Playing with a shorthanded blue-line provides that much more responsibility through the lineup. The Bruins skated with five defensemen after Grzelcyk’s departure and felt taxed as the game progressed. Come overtime, where they struggled to clear the puck — especially during a delayed penalty on Brandon Carlo — Gunnarson seized his opportunity to help his team even the series.
“Well everyone’s got to pull on that rope a little more and everyone’s got more responsibility after that and I know we’re capable of that,” Coyle said. “It’s not an ideal situation, but we get that from this team and guys who can eat up more minutes as well.”
Coyle and company couldn’t win one for their Charlestown-born teammate as he spent the rest of Game 2 in a hospital for further testing.
Who will be the next man up?
Next man up. It’s been one of the themes for the Bruins all season long. They’ve overcome injuries to core members like Bergeron, Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy and depth players such as Chris Wagner and Marcus Johansson.
The battle-tested Bruins may enter that role again in Game 3 Saturday night. John Moore or Steven Kampfer will take Grzelcyk’s spot — depending on his status — with Connor Clifton on the third defense pairing. Both Moore and Kampfer appeared in the Carolina series with the former filling in for an injured Chara in Game 4 and the latter scoring a key goal in Game 1 in place of a suspended McAvoy.
Cassidy’s primary concern lies with Grzelcyk’s health. But the third-year Bruins bench boss knows he may have another important lineup decision ahead.
“I’m not worried about them coming in. They’ve played in the playoffs and helped us win games,” Cassidy said. “I’m more concerned with Grzelcyk’s health right now. I don’t have an update. Hopefully, he comes back and he’s fine. We do have two days between the next game, so if not [Grzelcyk], we’ll look at Johnny vs. Kampfer. The easy thing to say is Moore is a left stick. It keeps everyone on their appropriate side, but we’ll deal with that.”
“Next man up. We’ve done that a lot this year,” Cassidy added. “I hate to lose a guy, but if that ends up being the case, then one of those two goes in.”