Scotty Bowman said the Bruins’ top liners play like Russians. Here’s what he means.

It's a high compliment from one of the greatest coaches in NHL history.

Detroit Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman raises the Stanley Cup over his head after Detroit defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the cup in Detroit, June 7, 1997. Bowman will soon coach in his 2,000th NHL game, a mind-boggling feat. But the 67-year-old coach, in his 29th season, just shrugs off the milestone like it's just another one of his 1,000-plus wins. (AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon)
Red Wings head coach Scotty Bowman hoists the Stanley Cup after Detroit defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the cup in 1997. –AP Photo/Tom Pidgeon

One of hockey’s most revered coaches paid the Bruins a top compliment after the Game 1 win against the Lightning.

As The Athletic’s Joey McDonald reported, Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said that the Bruins’ leading line “play like Russians”:

It was high praise from the now-retired 84-year-old coach. In his remarkable career, Bowman led three different teams to a combined nine Stanley Cup victories. An expert in evaluation, Bowman’s comparison of the Bruins’ top line (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak) to a Russian style warrants exploration.

First, here’s Bowman (and other former Russian players) explaining the philosophy of Soviet hockey:


“They had a sixth sense about them,” Bowman said in the 2014 documentary, “Red Army“. “They had eyes in the back of their head.”

In Detroit in the 1990s, Bowman was the first NHL coach to take five former Soviet players and put them all on the same line. The result, “The Russian Five,” helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997:

For Bruins fans who have enjoyed watching Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak this season, the “sixth sense” description might sound familiar. In Game 1 against the Lightning, the Bruins’ top line accounted for 11 points. Through eight playoff games in 2018, the line has totaled 41 points.

Yet it was more than goals that drew Bowman’s Russian comparison. It was also puck movement. The unselfishness in making the extra pass has paid dividends for Boston in the playoffs:

The other component of the Bruins’ top-line effectiveness has been, as Bowman noted, having “eyes in the back of their head.”

Ahead 4-2 in the third period of Game 1, the combination of Pastrnak-Marchand-Bergeron resulted in a memorable fifth goal against the Lightning. Each of the passes in the buildup to Bergeron’s one-timer were derived from a familiarity with each other.

Marchand’s assist was essentially unstoppable because he anticipated where Bergeron would be:


What this means for the Bruins in the rest of the 2018 playoffs is yet to be determined, but Boston’s leading line has certainly made a lasting impression on one of the sport’s great coaches.