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Coaches Room

Bruins-Blue Jackets series likely to come down to special teams

Murphy says Boston's discipline, Columbus' shorthanded scoring chances could tip scales

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. Gord Murphy, David Marcoux, Paul MacLean and Don Nachbaur will take turns providing insight.

In this edition, Murphy, a former assistant with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers, breaks down the series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins. 

The Eastern Conference Second Round between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins has been so good, it's worthy of being a Stanley Cup Final.

It's close, evenly matched, tied 2-2 going into Game 5 at TD Garden on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS). 

The in-game momentum swings are excellent, and there hasn't been any momentum carryover from one game to the next.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

The goaltending, with Tuukka Rask of the Bruins and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets, has been outstanding. 

NBC play-by-play announcer Mike "Doc" Emrick said it Thursday during the broadcast that this is real man's hockey; if you're not willing to hit or be hit, you're going to be exposed out there. It's so true. It's what we love about the playoffs; physical, clean, hard, heavy, fast-paced and high-level hockey.

That's why nobody should be surprised the series is boiling down to the game within the game: special teams. 

The Bruins scored a shorthanded goal and were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill in Game 1, so they won 3-2 in overtime. The Blue Jackets scored twice on the power play in Game 2, so they won 3-2 in the second overtime.

Video: CBJ@BOS, Gm2: Duchene wins it in 2OT on power play

Columbus scored again on the power play and killed off its two penalties in Game 3 to win 2-1. Boston scored two power-play goals and went 4-for-4 on the PK in a 4-1 win in Game 4.

Beyond the obvious, there are a few things I have noticed.

Game 4 was the first time it looked as if the Bruins made a conscious effort to maintain their discipline and stay on the task at hand, rather than get dragged into a lot of scrums after whistles. 

The Blue Jackets are trying to entice the Bruins into undisciplined penalties. They're good in the trenches, playing down low, and they don't mind extending the situation after whistles, creating scrums, doing that stuff. Boston seemed to stay away from that in Game 4.

That's experience. That's maturity. That's the Bruins saying, "We're not going to waste our energy after the whistles and we're going to keep our focus."

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets seemed to lose some of their discipline in Game 4. They put the Bruins on the power play six times, which opened the door for Boston's top players to get on the score sheet.

Center Patrice Bergeron scored two power-play goals after having no points in the first three games. Forward Brad Marchand had an assist, his first point of the series. Forward David Pastrnak scored at even strength and had an assist on one of Bergeron's goals.

Video: Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak shine in Game 4 win

Columbus had its chances shorthanded; center Boone Jenner had about four, along with a shorthanded penalty shot attempt that was saved by Rask. They're still killing well in that sense, but Boston twice found a way to get the puck to Bergeron, once on the rush and once in a set-up off a rebound.

He has to feel better about himself now. Same for Marchand and Pastrnak. It'll be a tougher job for the Blue Jackets to try to keep them contained again, but they can do it. We've seen it.

Columbus should maintain its confidence against the Bergeron line going into Game 5 because of how well it has played against that line in 5-on-5 situations, by doing an outstanding job with their five-man gap in the defensive zone.

The Blue Jackets forwards are pressuring hard and as soon as Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak enter the zone and look to do anything east-west or try to cut inside, the back pressure is there swallowing them up with the tight gap of defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. 

Werenski and Jones have such good mobility and range that they're not intimidated by the skill and speed of Boston's top line. That gap just tightens like a vise on the Bruins' top line, which has been unable to make its plays in front of the defensemen or behind the forwards.

Flip it around, though, and Boston is doing a terrific job defensively against Columbus' best players in 5-on-5 situations too. They're just doing it differently.

The Bruins are trying to manage the puck and not turn the puck over coming up the ice because they know the Blue Jackets are one of the better teams at turning good defense into transition offense. Look at how Jenner did it in shorthanded situations. There's proof.

Boston is doing a good job of getting pucks deep 5-on-5, and when the Bruins have to defend they have numbers back, numbers down low. That's limiting the cycle game Columbus would like to create.

It'll be interesting to see which team finds a way to adjust better at 5-on-5. But as long as the goalies stay as sharp as they've been, special teams will continue to be the biggest factor in determining the winner in this series.

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