One of the big matchups to watch entering the Stanley Cup Final was going to be how the Bruins would contend with the St. Louis Blues’ white-hot top line. The trio of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz was the biggest driving force behind the Blues’ Western Conference Final win over the San Jose Sharks, and it seemed to be a given that Bruce Cassidy was going to counter them with his top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak in a power vs. power matchup.
Especially with home-ice advantage and the opportunity to dictate more of the line matchups.
But through the first two games of the series, which is now tied 1-1 after the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win on Wednesday night, Cassidy has already started to get away from that matchup as the Blues’ top line has carried the play.
Tarasenko extended his current point streak to eight games with a late first period goal in Game 2, once again victimizing the Bergeron line. Through the first two games of the series the two lines have only spent eight minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time going against each other, with the Tarasenko line outscoring them by a 3-0 margin and controlling the territorial game. Small sample size or not, that has resulted in the Bruins using their fourth line against the Tarasenko line for much of the first two games, which is hardly what we expected at the start.
[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]
Cassidy was asked on Thursday how his top line can get out of its current funk that has not only included them not scoring in the series (outside of an empty-net goal by Marchand), but also giving up its share of goals.
“Well they’ve certainly generated on the power play to get their momentum going 5-on-5,” said Cassidy. “What they’ve done well in the whole playoffs, even when they weren’t scoring, they played against Tavares and Marner, and certainly kept them off the score sheet. Then you go to Panarin and I think it was Atkinson. They’ve done a good job. So then there was Staal and Williams. So they’ve been able to at least do that part of the job. So far this series Schenn’s line’s got some 5-on-5 goals. So that’s the part of why we made the switch. Try to free them up and try to lock down that line with Kuraly.
He continued. “I suspect they’ll want to go to that matchup again, I don’t want to speak for them. They’re going to go to that matchup in St. Louis, looks like they wanted it here. So if that’s the case, then that’s a big challenge for [Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak]. They’re typically up to it. They’ve always found their game, they usually don’t go very long without being a factor. I don’t imagine that will change. I suspect in Game 3 we’ll see their best game of the series. Until that happens, it’s kind of speculation, but that’s what I suspect will happen.”
If the Bruins are going to end up winning this series that is probably going to have to happen.
For as important as depth scoring can be this time of year (and it is extremely important) you still need your best players to play like your best players. That doesn’t mean they have to dominate every single night, because everyone is prone to a slump at some point, and it doesn’t even mean that they have to score a ton of goals. But in the Bruins’ case they do have to find a way to slow down Tarasenko, Schenn, and Schwartz because that shutdown ability is one of their key roles. And also one that you always expect to be there even when the offense isn’t.
“Yeah, I think they’re a really good line,” said Bergeron on Thursday when talking about the matchup. “They play well together, they’re hard on the forecheck, they’re good at turning pucks over and sustaining some pressure with that cycling game, and they capitalized. And for us it’s about being better, and we’ve dealt with this this whole playoffs against different lines. So we look at videos, we look at tendencies, we also know how we can play and play the right way. I think sometimes it’s about simplifying but also taking care of the puck in your own zone before they get on offense.”
Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.