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Coaches Room

Bruins need to continue road success in Game 6 of Cup Final against Blues

Murphy says Rask, top line can steal win, extend series

by Gord Murphy / Special to NHL.com

The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. David Marcoux, Paul MacLean, Don Nachbaur and Gord Murphy will take turns providing insight.

In this Stanley Cup Final edition, Murphy, a former assistant with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers, discusses where the focus will go for Game 6 after the St. Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 in Game 5 on Thursday.

The Boston Bruins aren't finished yet.

It would be foolish to count out the Bruins now even though they're down 3-2 against the St. Louis Blues in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final going into Game 6 at Enterprise Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

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Boston is 7-3 on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including 1-1 in St. Louis. The Bruins have been in this situation before. They were down 3-2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round with Game 6 on the road. They won the series in seven games.

However, there has to be concern about the Bruins' defense even though Zdeno Chara played 16:42 and delivered four hits in Game 5 despite the facial injury that so many of us thought would keep him out of the lineup.

The Blues wear on the opposition as the series goes on. They finish every check. They're relentless. It's not surprising that they're 7-1 in Games 5-7 in the playoffs. They get better as the series goes on and their opponents typically wilt.

Pretend you're a player lined up for a faceoff. You look to see who you're out there against. Everyone does. You have to. In your mind you're calculating how the shift may go, if you think you'll have an easier time, if it won't be as physical, or if you have to prepare for a hard hit.

With the Blues, it doesn't matter because they're going to hit you every shift. They're coming. There isn't one line that you're up against that you can say, 'I'll be OK this shift.' It's every line. That's the impressive part. It's tiring to play physical hockey like that and the Blues do it well.

That's the concern for the Bruins, especially with how their defensemen are getting hit. They were down to five defensemen for the last two periods plus overtime in Game 2 and lost. They were down to five again when Chara went out at 3:07 of the second period in Game 4 and lost.

Video: Melrose on Chara vs. Blues, Bruins PP vs. Blues PK

You might think they counterbalanced that by playing seven defensemen in Game 5, but that's not how it works. It's late in the series and fatigue and bumps and bruises all come into play. The Blues have been dishing it out more than they've been taking it.

However, the Bruins have reasons to believe, to be confident that they will force Game 7.

Tuukka Rask hasn't stolen a game yet in the series the way Blues goalie Jordan Binnington did with 38 saves in Game 5. Rask is capable of putting the Bruins on his back in Game 6.

Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak hasn't come through yet at 5-on-5. It's hard to imagine that line, arguably the best line in the NHL, will go six straight games without a 5-on-5 goal.

They showed signs of life in Game 5, especially in the first period. They generated chances and had five shots on goal and Marchand also hit the post with another shot. The three forwards finished the game with 13 shots on goal in total (all situations), including six from Pastrnak.

The Bruins, though, probably would like to see more offensive zone play from them and certainly more on the rush, but at the end of the day, you have to give their opponent credit.

Video: What Chara's start means for the Bruins defense

The play of the Blues' top four defensemen, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester in particular, has been outstanding. They're not giving them much time and space when they get in the zone. With their range and size, they are doing a great job to limit them.

At times it looks like Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak are forcing plays that aren't there. The simple approach is take what the Blues give you. If they're standing you up at the blue line, put puck behind them. If they're giving you time and space, use it.

But they're such a good line, such a dynamic line that you're kind of waiting for them to break out. They have to do it now. There's no tomorrow. Get a lead, get the crowd out of it and try to get the Blues to go, 'Uh oh, we don't want a Game 7.'

A big question is will Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy go with seven defensemen again in Game 6?

It made sense to do it in Game 5. There was the unknown of Chara, would he be able to finish the game? Cassidy gave himself insurance by bringing Steven Kampfer into the lineup.

However, if you don't have to do it and you don't regularly do it, then it's best to probably just go back to using 12 forwards and six defensemen. 

The 11-7 approach can take the 'D' out of its rhythm. The forwards love it, more ice time, but defensemen can struggle to stay engaged because they're not sure when or if they're going on the ice, and with whom.

It wouldn't be surprising if Cassidy went back to the 12-6 lineup and still double shifted Pastrnak and Marcus Johansson early in Game 6 to get them more ice time and potentially generate scoring chances the way they did early in Game 5, when the Bruins clearly had more life.

The key is finishing, which the Bruins didn't do Thursday, but double shift them early and get a lead, and if you have the lead, then you still have your depth up front to go back to rolling four lines and keeping the shifts short.

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