One day later in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first round at Toronto, they forced a Game 7 in this series by playing frickin’ Bruins-style hockey in their 4-2 victory.
The hometown stats keepers counted the hits as 40-34 in favor of the Maple Leafs. Even if that differential was correct, there’s no doubt the Bruins’ bodying of Toronto took a great toll and led to fewer clean exits and entries by the Maple Leafs, and led to offense for the Bruins.
Nothing epitomized the Bruins’ rediscovered determination and urgency than Cassidy’s new frickin’ first line – David Krejci centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak. Is it a coincidence that any line Pastnrak’s on evolves into Boston’s best line and one of the best in the league? That’s a discussion for another day.
But Game 6 changed when Krejci’s line got out of its comfort zone with the score tied 1-1 late in the first period.
Momentum was hanging in the balance when Toronto gained possession below the goal line in its own end. In came Pastrnak to throw his weight into defenseman Jake Gardiner. Then Krejci thrust Travis Dermott into the glass before DeBrusk could snatch the puck. DeBrusk tried to circle the net and drew a tripping penalty from Dermott.
Two guys not known for their physicality exacting a toll on the Maple Leafs. It not only created a turnover and then a Boston power play, but certainly could’ve affected the Maple Leafs the rest of the night. When the Maple Leafs know everyone is out to hit them, it sits in the back of their brains.
And on the other side, it’s difficult for Boston’s veteran stars to coerce the younger players to sacrifice their well being when the older guys aren’t backing up their words. Once the Bruins bench sees Pastrnak and Krejci hitting, the entire lineup knows it’s time to get down to business.
Capping the sequence was Torey Krug, who was a man playing possessed by a Big, Bad Bruin throughout the game, scoring the go-ahead power-play goal.
DeBrusk had been a shell of his regular-season self ever since he took a cross check to the face from Nazem Kadri at the end of Game 2. Whether it was the do-or-die nature of this game, or a flame lit by playing with Krejci and Pastrnak consistently, or a combination of both, DeBrusk was back. He nearly duplicated his two-goal performance from last year’s Game 7 against Toronto, although this time he was robbed of his second goal by Frederik Andersen.
DeBrusk gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead at 7:57 of the second period after Pastrnak, again going outside his comfort zone to drop way down in the defensive end to retrieve and clear a puck, chipped the puck out of Boston’s end. DeBrusk and Krejci worked a beautiful two-man play, crisscrossing high in the Toronto zone before DeBrusk finished by tipping Krejci’s return feed while getting cross checked by Andreas Johnsson.
“It’s a war out there and you just try to get position and stay there,” DeBrusk told the media after the game.
DeBrusk had been shying away from the battle, but he kept getting to the middle throughout the game and almost doubled his goal output midway through the third period after he got behind Toronto’s defense. But Andersen ended DeBrusk’s bid with a glove save.
Not too many years ago, Patrice Bergeron’s line was seen as more of a checking second line and Krejci’s line was seen as the No. 1 offensive unit. That’s how the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and went back to the final two years later. Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak changed the pecking order the past few seasons.
Bergeron, Marchand and Danton Heinen didn’t have the same dynamic performance as Krejci’s line in Game 6, but along with Marchand’s two goals (one on the power play, one into an empty net) Bergeron’s line went toe-to-toe with John Tavares’ line and held that trio to a stalemate so that Boston’s power play and DeBrusk’s first goal of the series could lead the way to victory.
Along the way Cassidy found a new frickin’ third line. He fortuitously inserted Karson Kuhlman into the lineup and the rookie made for a great combination with Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. Down the stretch, though, it was the line of Coyle centering Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari that gave Boston’s top two lines the necessary rest while punishing Toronto with an even heavier forecheck than Boston’s top six forwards were bringing.
For the first time since Game 2, Cassidy made more right moves than Mike Babcock, and the Bruins players dictated the pace and style for the majority of the 60 minutes.
You know what the coach is going to say now – go frickin’ win Game 7 so we can frickin’ play some more games.
A victory will be within Boston’s grasp if the Bruins’ new first line duplicates its most recent performance.
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