The Columbus Blue Jackets were still gunning for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Bruins visited Nationwide Arena and plastered them with a 6-2 win.
Columbus star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t make it out of the second period that night a few weeks ago, as he was pulled after giving up four goals on 23 shots.
In fact, Bobrovsky’s track record against the Bruins reads a lot like that night – 3-6-2, .889 save percentage in 12 regular-season games against Boston.
Sure he’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but when it comes to facing the Bruins, Bobrovsky is no Braden Holtby.
So why did the Bruins seem intent to make him look like a clone of Holtby in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference second round on Saturday? The Blue Jackets won 3-2 in double overtime to even up the best-of-7 series 1-1 heading to Columbus for Game 3 on Tuesday.
“You know, there’s a way for us to generate more and you know I think we can find the inside a little bit more against them,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said after the marathon defeat. “They’re doing a good job of playing us to the outside. But that being said we have to find the ways and look at video and make sure we generate a bit more.”
Bergeron may have been wrong when he tripped up Seth Jones and took the penalty that led to Matt Duchene’s game-winning goal, but the Boston alternate captain wasn’t wrong about where the Bruins’ chances were coming from. Heat maps showed the Blue Jackets were in the slot and the top of the crease against Tuukka Rask, while the Bruins were between the hashmarks and above against Bobrovsky.
To be fair, this Bruins-Blue Jackets tilt was more of a war of attrition than Game 1. And Columbus has clearly improved its defensive game since it was struggle in March, and even since that game with Boston in early April.
But the Bruins should have enough offensive skill and will to make life a little more difficult on Bobrovsky. The Bruins had just 13 shots on net through two periods, and with about four minutes to go in regulation that total had increased to about 18. The high-tip play, a play that grew in popularity around the NHL throughout the season and has become the scoring play of choice in the postseason, was non-existent. Screens in front of Bobrovsky came and went (but mostly went) and the Bruins drilled 22 shots into Columbus bodies over the course of 83 minutes and 42 seconds.
David Pastrnak had five shots on net, but one was his goal that went off his skate after Boston’s only hot hand, Charlie Coyle, did the yeoman’s work to circle the Columbus net and get the puck out front. Otherwise Pastrnak has been reduced to a perimeter hoverer more interested in threading the needle with a pass than trying to drill a shot through Bobrovsky. Brad Marchand still hasn't found his game and maybe needs to stomp on some of his own sticks to get himself going.
Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen similarly didn’t seem to have the will to make Bobrovsky work, that is until overtime when the Bruins finally perked up and Bobrovsky showed the type of flexibility and glove-handed acumen he typically displays against teams not named the Bruins.
This game never should’ve been in overtime. The Bruins should have paid the price early and gotten one past Bobrovsky before the first 60 minutes expired.
In fact, they were handed a gift with 9:12 left in the third period, when Cam Atkinson was called for tripping Torey Krug behind the Boston net. The Bruins power play is the backbone of their offense. Well in this instance it snapped them in half. They barely got a set up, as Columbus seemingly had every entry, every pass to the middle and every back-pass the Bruins usually attempt memorized. Alex Wennberg, a guys Columbus hadn’t deemed worthy of being in their lineup during these playoffs before Saturday, twice broke up high-zone passing plays.
Columbus and Bobrovsky escaped what should have been the Bruins’ knife in their hearts.
This all wouldn’t be as concerning had the Bruins not scored all three of their goals in Game 3 off Columbus gaffes. A Noel Acciari shorthanded goal that should’ve been stopped by Bobrovsky; a Charlie Coyle goal off a Marcus Johansson cross-ice backhand pass that the entire Blue Jackets team watched go by like a pig on the loose at the Ohio State Fair (that’s a thing, right?); and the game-winning goal on Coyle’s backdoor drive to the net after Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski stopped playing because he thought Danton Heinen broke into the zone offside.
It was not a masterclass in beautiful goal scoring by the Bruins. And no one’s expecting them to run a five-man weave or score on some triple-deke breakaway in this slugfest of a series. But the Bruins are expected to earn their chances, grind better than Columbus and use their postseason experience to put some heat on the Blue Jackets, especially Bobrovsky.
No wonder he was able to make a handful of miraculous saves in the overtimes, the regulation was basically a rest period for him.
The Bruins better do something to tire out Bobrovsky moving forward, or they'll have too much time on their hands to sleep to May.
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