BOSTON — They’re entering the kind of game they all dreamed about playing when they were growing up.
Unfortunately, a few nightmarish sequences over their last four games has forced them into it, and if the Bruins don’t avoid enough of those on Wednesday night, they’ll have a hard time winning Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs at TD Garden (7:35, NESN, WBZ-FM 98.5).
A combination of gaps in defensive coverage, missed scoring opportunities and the absence of enough timely saves from Tuukka Rask has resulted in the Bruins dropping three of the last four games since taking what looked like a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. They’ve dropped two straight — the first one at the Garden — with a chance to end the series and advance to Round 2 against the Lightning.
After doing so much to create all this drama, the B’s have to try to ignore as much of it as they can.
“In Game 7, they talk about pressure vs. embracing the moment,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, who enters his first Game 7 at the NHL level.
“So, prepare to play well … and now you’ve got to go out and embrace it. To me, that’s the simplest message we can give to our players. Do your job, do it well, trust the guy beside you. We’ve done it all year. That’s kind of the mentality we’ve got to have for 60 minutes.”
“Even though this is the highest level and the biggest deal, in the playoffs, you try to downsize it, almost,” said rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who’s also making his NHL Game 7 debut. “Remember that this is the game you love, this is the NHL playoffs, this is what you grow up as a kid dreaming of — playing in that Game 7 and making a difference.”
A significant group of difference-makers has either struggled throughout the entire series, or gone silent.
McAvoy (one assist) admits he’s still trying to find his game after losing 15 to a knee injury that sidelined him through April 1. Rick Nash, who missed the last 12 regular season games with a concussion, has been held to a single goal despite ranking second on the team with 22 shots in the series. No. 3 center Riley Nash, coming off a career year (15-26–41), doesn’t have a point in four games after coming back from a March 31 head injury.
The Bruins would normally be able to overcome such droughts on a relatively consistent basis if their top line was meeting its usual standards, but that hasn’t been the case: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have been shut out in their last three games as a line (Bergeron missed Game 4 with an upper body injury) after combining for 20 points over Games 1-2; the B’s have lost all three.
Cassidy hasn’t touched the top line or the fourth line (Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari) except in cases of injury, and plans the same approach in Game 7. Part of his Game 6 shakeup — Rick Nash to left wing with Riley Nash and David Backes — is also likely to continue, but rather than give veteran grinder Tommy Wingels a second try on the No. 2 line with David Krejci and rookie winger Jake DeBrusk, Cassidy will use Danton Heinen or Scituate native Ryan Donato. Heinen, scoreless in a third-line role through Game 5, didn’t play Game 6. Donato, 5-4–9 over 12 regular-season games after leaving Harvard University in mid-March, has played only once, in Game 2.
“At the end of the day, I do believe it’s bigger, quite honestly, than whether Danton or Donato or Wingels plays in that spot,” Cassidy said. “There’s a lot more that goes into the game right now that we need to do to win, like we did earlier, than one lineup decision.”
Cassidy, who has preached to his players to avoid over-thinking Game 7 since they lost Game 6 in Toronto on Monday, 3-1, is trying to put that into practice himself.
“It’s a balance for us,” he said of the coaching staff.
“At the end of the day, players need to be in a good place mentally, so that’s the first task at hand. And then, you hope the in-game adjustments or match-ups you make, the little bit of tinkering, works in your favor.”
Published at Wed, 25 Apr 2018 01:35:12 +0000