Three areas where Bruins must improve to eliminate Leafs in Game 6

Three areas where Bruins must improve to eliminate Leafs in Game 6 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins are still in control of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but their margin for error is shrinking.

The Bruins held a 3-1 series lead with a chance to eliminate the Leafs in Tuesday’s Game 5 at TD Garden. Instead of punching their ticket to the second round, the B’s lost 2-1 in overtime in an ugly performance.

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery was visibly frustrated during his postgame press conference, and that emotion had not dissipated when he met with the media after Wednesday’s practice.

“Honestly, I’m still pissed off from last night,” Montgomery said after the Bruins’ optional practice. “I don’t understand or accept our play last night. I’ll be pissed until the puck drops (in Game 6).”

The series shifts back to Toronto on Thursday night for Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena. The Bruins should enter that building with a lot of confidence. They played really well in Games 3 and 4 last week and picked up some impressive wins. The Leafs have also lost six straight home playoff games dating back to the first round last season.

But after blowing a 3-1 lead and losing in the first round to the Florida Panthers last year, the pressure will continue to mount for the Bruins if they fail in Game 6 and have to return home for Game 7 on Saturday night.

Here are three areas the Bruins must improve in to beat the Leafs in Game 6 and avoid another Game 7 on home ice.

David Pastrnak has to work offensively

Pastrnak is the Bruins’ best player and the engine that powers their offense. He did not play well in Game 5, registering four shots with zero points despite leading B’s forward with 20:06 of ice time. He also didn’t have a single high-danger chance to score in 6:30 hours of 5-on-5 ice time.

Pastrnak has four points from five games and that is certainly not bad. We’ve seen takeover games from Auston Matthews (Game 2) and Brad Marchand (Games 3 and 4) in this series, but Pastrnak has yet to dominate a matchup in this series. There hasn’t been a signature moment or signature game from him yet. That’s unusual for him against the Leafs in the playoffs.

In the 2019 first round, Pastrnak scored twice in the Bruins’ 6–4 victory in Game 4, tying the series. He scored once with two assists in Game 1 of the 2018 first round, followed by a six-point performance (including a hat trick) in Game 2.

Pastrnak averaged 2.91 shots per game at 5-on-5 during the regular season. He’s at just 1.4 per game so far in this series. The Leafs hold a 43-23 advantage in scoring opportunities during Pastrnak’s 73:46 of 5-on-5 ice time through five games, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s not all Pastrnak’s fault, of course, but the fact that the ice is so far in Toronto’s favor is not an encouraging trend for the Bruins.

Pastrnak is an elite offensive player who just completed his third straight 40-plus goal season and his second consecutive 100-point campaign. The Bruins need some more offensive production from him at 5-on-5 to improve their chances of ending the series on Thursday.

Better start

You never want to give a team in trouble — which the Leafs entered Game 5 — any reason for optimism or belief in the first period. You must send a message immediately. The Bruins failed miserably in that regard, starting Tuesday’s loss by playing so poorly in all three zones and allowing the Leafs to open the scoring with just 5:56 left in the game.

Multiple icings, losing 16 of 20 faceoffs and generating almost nothing offensively (just two shots and two scoring chances) were among Boston’s biggest problems in the first period of Game 5. Shot attempts were 30-7 in favor of the Leafs during the period. . The Bruins did manage to enter the first intermission with one goal apiece, but it was clear to the Leafs that the game was very winnable for them.

There was no excuse for the Bruins to lack urgency and perform so poorly from the opening game. They knew the Leafs would play desperate hockey, but they still couldn’t come close to matching that intensity.

The first goal is always important, but for the Leafs in Game 6, it could be even more important since their season is on the line and they are the home team. An early Bruins goal could take the crowd out of the game and plant a seed of doubt in the Leafs’ minds. That’s why a strong start is so crucial for the Bruins. They can’t give the Leafs and their audience any reason to believe a series comeback is entirely feasible.


The Bruins need to own the puck more in Game 6, and one way to do that is by consistently winning faceoffs.

The Leafs have dominated in the faceoff circle this series. They have won 55.1 percent of all faceoffs, the third-best winning percentage among the 16 teams that reached the playoffs. The Bruins rank third at 44.9 percent. In the regular season they were at 49.5 percent.

Game 5 was particularly bad for the Bruins in the faceoff circle. The Leafs won 16 of 20 first-period ties (including 10 of 14 in the Boston zone) and finished with a winning percentage of 33 of 53 (62.3 percent). The Leafs’ first goal came on a face-off win after the Bruins froze the puck.

The Bruins win just 41.8 percent of their defensive zone draws through five games in Round 1. They won 52.5 percent of those matchups in the regular season.

Montgomery made John Beecher a healthy scratch in Game 5, even though the rookie center leads the Bruins with a 54.8 faceoff winning percentage in the series. Putting Beecher back in the lineup would help the B’s on faceoffs in Game 6, but it can’t be solely his responsibility. Charlie Coyle (46.4 percent) and Pavel Zacha (42.7) should also be much better in this area.

Leave a Comment