BLUE JACKETS vs. BRUINS - GAME 6
Boston leads series 3-2
Monday, 7:15 p.m., Nationwide Arena (NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, CBJ app, 97.1 The Fan; postgame on Fox Sports Ohio)
Zach Werenski's rookie year was the charmed season, as he smashed a Blue Jackets rookie record with 47 points.
His second year was a year of adversity as he battled through a shoulder injury that sapped his abilities.
The third year, then, has been about growth. Tasked with improving his defensive game by head coach John Tortorella, he did just that.
GAME 6 HUB: Highlights, tweets, and news
It wasn't always a smooth process -- both Werenski and Tortorella would probably admit that -- but it has led to an improvement in Werenski's game.
Always a gifted offensive player, he hasn't lost that, with 11 goals and 44 points on the season. But there has been real growth in Werenski's defensive play, which has been shown down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as his pairing with Seth Jones has taken its play to another level.
"You watch him and obviously his offensive talent, everyone has seen and understands, but there's so much more to his game," captain Nick Foligno said. "He doesn't realize how big of a guy he is and how strong he is. Sometimes it takes a few years to realize you're a man, too. It's great. I'm thrilled for him because it just makes him that much more of an elite player."
Overall in the playoffs, Werenski has a goal and five assists for six points in nine games, plus he's plus-5 while playing almost 27 minutes per game, fourth most of any defenseman in the NHL this postseason. He also notched a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight -- in Game 2 vs. Tampa Bay.
"I don't really care if I score to be honest, I just want to win this time of year," Werenski said. "I just want to go out there and help this team any way I can."
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Game 6 storyline
In a series many hockey observers expected to go the full seven games, it's now up to the Blue Jackets to make it happen.
Saturday night's Game 5 loss in Boston puts the Blue Jackets on the brink of elimination for the first time this season. Columbus must win Game 6 to return to Boston for a winner-take-all seventh game, which would be the first Game 7 in franchise history.
And there's one person who thinks the Blue Jackets will be back in TD Garden come Wednesday night.
"We'll be back here for Game 7," Tortorella said.
Why does he think that?
"Because we will," he said.
Tortorella uttered those words after an epic yet heartbreaking Game 5 in which the Blue Jackets rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits in the last 10 minutes before Boston stole the game with a winner with 1:28 to play.
Video: It's do or die
It was quite a turn of events as a game that had been cautious for 40 minutes turned into a barnburner in the last 20. Boston came out like a house afire in the third and looked to have grabbed control of the game, but an odd goal by Seth Jones that required video review to count ignited a stretch in which the Blue Jackets scored three times in 3:25.
The key, Columbus says, is to learn from the goal-scoring outburst that featured Jones getting a lucky deflection a puck thrown on net, Matt Duchene setting up Ryan Dzingel in transition, and Artemi Panarin feeding Dean Kukan for an open blast.
"I thought we loosened our mentality a bit and started making a few more plays," Duchene said. "Our desperation came out and we had some different line combos and things that seemed to spark us a bit."
Or, as Tortorella said, "We got some guys to play. I loved the energy level, but we have to make plays, too."
More of those plays were made in the third period than had been over the past two games of hockey. The Blue Jackets also appeared to find some lines that clicked in the third period, with Pierre-Luc Dubois centering Panarin and Josh Anderson, Duchene between Dzingel and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Boone Jenner playing with Foligno and Cam Atkinson.
But more than any strategic adjustments, Game 6 will come down to desperation and will as much as anything. For a Blue Jackets team that has bounced back from everything thrown at it this season, the response in front of a packed house at Nationwide Arena will be key.
"We just have to be ready to play," Jones said. "I trust that every individual will be ready to go."
Columbus: Panarin (5-6-11), Duchene (5-5-10) and Jones (3-6-9) all have at least a point per game in the playoffs. … Dzingel and Kukan each tallied for the first time in the playoffs in Game 5.
Boston: The trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has come alive. After just one point combined in the first three games, the trio has a combined 6-5-11 line in the last two.
Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky has given up four goals in each of the last two games, so perhaps any air of invincibility around him after the first three games is gone, but he's still been excellent in the series with a .925 save percentage.
Boston: Rask has been fantastic as well, including a couple of big saves on Cam Atkinson and a great stop of Nick Foligno in Game 5. His .936 save percentage in the series is impressive.
NHL history -- and math -- show that winning Game 5 in a 2-2 series is a pretty strong indicator that a team will go on to win the series.
But if there's any team that knows that's not automatic, it's the Bruins.
Boston lost Game 5 of its opening-round series vs. Toronto to fall into a 3-2 hole, but the Bruins came back to win Game 6 on the road and then take Game 7 in TD Garden to advance to take on the Jackets.
It is one of two such turnarounds already this playoffs, as Carolina dropped Game 5 to Washington before winning the final two games to advance out of the first round as well.
But such comebacks are historically more the exception than the rule, as more than 78 percent of teams in NHL playoffs history to break a 2-2 tie with a Game 5 win have gone on to win the series.
Boston seems unlikely to take things for granted, though, especially with a playoff-tested roster that has made deep runs in the playoffs a bit of habit over the past decade.
"It's a great opportunity," forward Charlie Coyle said. "They're gonna have their best game, their backs are against the wall. They're playing at home, they're gonna have a lot of energy and come out hard. We've got to do the same. We've got to continue to play our game."
If you're the Bruins, you have to like the turnaround for Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak, who have dotted the score sheet after their relatively quiet performances in the first three games of the series. But for a team that gave up the second fewest 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season, the three-goal outburst for the Blue Jackets late in Game 5 has to be a worry.
3 keys to the game
Start fast: Columbus has scored first just once in the series, and the Jackets have an opportunity to build on momentum after seeing three goals go in over the last 10 minutes of Game 5. What should be a fired-up crowd in Nationwide Arena should help.
Create chaos: For 50 minutes, the Jackets didn't score in Game 5, as Rask was able to see most shots and the Bruins were able to clear any rebounds. Good things happen when you go to the net and get pucks to the blue, something that improved as Game 5 went in.
Tighten up: Columbus just gave up too many scoring chances to Boston in the third period in Game 5, and the Bruins now have four goals in consecutive games. The Jackets were good defensively for stretches of the contest but have to play a full 60 minutes.
Blue Jackets projected lineup
*Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson
Alexandre Texier - Brandon Dubinsky - Markus Hannikainen
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan
Scratched: F Riley Nash (injured), Alexander Wennberg, Lukas Sedlak, Eric Robinson; D Markus Nutivaara (injured), Adam McQuaid (injured), Ryan Murray (IR), Adam Clendening, Andrew Peeke; G Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins