Bruins thoughts on DeBrusk, Matthews, Backes and more

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The Bruins showed after their Game 1 loss to Toronto that they could make the necessary adjustments and respond in the next game.

Now they’re down 1-2 in the Eastern Conference first round to the Maple Leafs and Game 4 is going to have to be another response game Wednesday in Toronto.

Here are a few off-day notes:

*So much focus, rightfully so, has been on the Bruins’ first line not finding any room against John Tavares’ line. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak undoubtedly have to figure out a way to drop some points on the Maple Leafs on the road. In the three games played in Toronto in last year’s seven-game series win, Brad Marchand had the only goal scored by the trio, and Pastrnak had two even-strength assists.

At practice Tuesday, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy kept that line together. If they’re truly the best line in hockey they’ll reward the coach’s faith by playing more as a three-man unit and attacking the net the way they usually do in the regular season.

*But there was another worrying aspect of Game 4. Jake DeBrusk did not look right. He battled in front of the Toronto net to set up David Krejci’s second-period game-tying goal, but the rest of the night he seemed to be thinking rather than reacting. He landed four shots on net – two from in tight before Krejci scored, and two from the perimeter. He landed no hits.

He knew heading into Game 3 he was going to be “enemy No. 1” and the Toronto fans game him the boo-bird treatment every time he touched the puck, a reaction typically reserved for Marchand or Zdeno Chara.

.@JDebrusk speaks with the media in Toronto ahead of tonight's Game 3 between the #NHLBruins and Maple Leafs: pic.twitter.com/XEoTnjzenS

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 15, 2019

Maybe that got to DeBrusk, or maybe he was still feeling the effects of Nazem Kadri’s cross check to the face. Let’s hope it was more then former than the latter and DeBrusk is healthy.

And for the Bruins’ sake, DeBrusk has to use his speed to make life a little more difficult on Toronto’s defense. If the Maple Leafs are going to clamp down with their top pair against Bergeron’s line, that should open things up for Boston’s other lines.

*All hail Auston Matthews! He scored a goal.

It’s déjà vu all over again. Last season Matthews scored his first goal of the series in Game 3 and the hockey punditocracy of Canada declared he was back. You know how many more goals he scored in that series? Zero.

So here we go again, Matthews scores a goal in Game 3 (a power-play goal no less) and it’s time to declare he’s ready to take over the series. He had a 56 to 58 percent Corsi For percentage against Krejci’s line and the defense pair of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. That sounds impressive until you realize that it’s just three to four more shot attempts for than against. This is why they play the games and don’t just input data into a computer to get a result.

Matthews should not be considered a legitimate postseason performer until he scores more than one goal in a series. Settle down, Canada.

*Karson Kuhlman has been fine on Krejci’s right wing. Fine won’t cut it anymore, though. And if the Tuesday practice lines are indicative of what Cassidy’s going to do in Game 4, Kuhlman’s going to keep his spot, Marcus Johansson is going to return from illness on the third line and David Backes is going to be out of the lineup.

#NHLBruins practice lines:Marchand - Bergeron - PastrnakDeBrusk - Krejci - KuhlmanJohansson - Coyle - HeinenNordstrom - Acciari - WagnerBackes - CareyChara - McAvoyKrug - CarloGrzelcyk - MooreZboril - KampferCliftonRaskHalakVladar

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) April 16, 2019

That’s right, Game 2 hero David Backes, the man who had seven hits and an assist in the Bruins' lone victory so far in this series, is going to sit for Kuhlman, who just passed having a dozen games of NHL experience, in a crucial road postseason game. I’ve heard of coaches being too loyal to veterans, I’ve never seen a coach be too loyal to a rookie.

Kuhlman played a little less than 12 minutes and Backes didn’t reach 10 minutes, but Backes had five shots on net. It’s such a small portion of the game, but which player has the greater chance to making a big hit or a downlow offensive play to turn Game 4? I’d take Backes, especially considering the Bruins’ struggles on faceoffs.

Cassidy's closest to the situation, so maybe he sees Backes wearing down and hopes that a little more rest will get Backes into Game 2 mode for Game 5. We shall see.

*In addition to Johansson’s return the Bruins are counting on John Moore getting back in the lineup in place of Steven Kampfer. There’s no right answer here for Cassidy because Moore has been a slow starter the other times he’s come back from injury, but Kampfer struggled with the aggressiveness of Toronto’s forecheck. Moore seemed like a strong bargain addition to strength the left side of the Bruins’ defense and now here’s his chance to prove it.

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