The Boston Bruins came out in Game 6 looking more like the sluggish bunch that skated in Game 5. That didn’t bode well early against a hungry Toronto Maple Leafs squad looking for its first postseason series win in 15 years.
Morgan Rielly’s blast past Tuukka Rask at 9:42 in put Toronto in the proverbial driver’s seat in front of a raucous Scotiabank Arena crowd. The Bruins desperately needed an answer to save their season.
They got it when Brad Marchand’s shot hit Ron Hainsey and slipped past Frederik Andersen for the equalizer. Then they built off that momentum swing from a lucky bounce.
With their season on the line, Bruce Cassidy’s bunch picked a good time to put together their best performance of the series. All 18 skaters had their legs going in their mission to extend their season. And Rask made the timely save when needed to backstop the Bruins to the 4-2 victory in Game 6.
The punches and counterpunches from both squads provided entertaining hockey for the first two weeks. Now the Bruins and Maple Leafs head to another seventh and decisive game in Boston Tuesday night.
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins come home to Boston looking for their third straight Game 7 win over their Original Six rivals.
Boston’s special teams deliver early
There isn’t much difference between the Bruins and Maple Leafs at this juncture. Both teams showed their muscle. Both have potent offensive weapons. And both Rask and Andersen have made timely saves when called upon.
The tightly-contested battles provide equal footing in 5-on-5 situations. That magnifies the power play and penalty kill attempts on both sides. The Bruins made the most of their special teams’ opportunities in Game 6.
Marchand’s first of two tallies at 11:23 of the first period gave the Bruins a needed answer just 1:41 after Rielly’s first of the postseason. Torey Krug, on the heels of a timely penalty kill with Joakim Nordstrom in the box for high sticking, completed Boston’s perfect afternoon on the power play with his first of the postseason at 17:02.
The power play did its job to change the momentum. The penalty kill also had a perfect night holding Toronto’s potent power play to a mere two shots on goal in its three attempts.
“A recipe for our power play all year is to make the play that’s open, and you know, get a shot, recover the puck and make one or two passes and get another shot. And that’s how we scored tonight,” Krug told reporters in Toronto postgame.
“Obviously if they’re going to take away Patrice Bergeron, you know, we have four other guys that can do some things on the ice. We just have to make the right reads and make the right plays. And we were able to do that tonight.”
Toronto’s shorthanded unit did a tremendous job taking away Bergeron’s bumper spot in Game 5. They used that same strategy again in Game 6 and also prevented David Pastrnak from taking his patented one-timer from the left face-off circle.
The Bruins’ top power play unit didn’t force the issue with their go-to plays. They moved the puck efficiently and took what the Maple Leafs gave them; finding the net twice for some much-needed momentum. The penalty kill made sure the ice stayed tilted in Boston’s favor.
Brandon Carlo had a monster game
His first-ever postseason series has seen its share of ups and downs. Game 6 trended upward for Carlo in his best performance of the series.
The Colorado Springs native had a tough time going up against Kasperi Kapanen, Auston Matthews, and Andreas Johnsson through the first five games. Matthews lit the lamp for his fifth of the postseason in the third period against Boston’s top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. Carlo and Krug, Cassidy’s second defensive pairing, held Toronto’s prolific 1-B line in check, however, holding Matthews, Kapanen, and Johnsson to eight shots on goal.
It wasn’t just the shots against that stood out with Carlo in Game 6. His strong skating, heavy hitting and overall defensive positioning all came together for a stellar outing.
“He’s a good young player that does a lot of the little things, so you’re not going to notice him on the scoresheet,” Cassidy said about Carlo. “He’s a guy we value a lot. His ability to defend and when he gets that hardness going — and when he gets that confidence with the puck when he’s moving and skating — then you got yourself something. He was on tonight.”
Many pundits pegged Carlo as a potential x-factor heading into the series. His two hits, a blocked shot, and four takeaways in 23:41 time on ice in Game 6 proved them right.
Jake DeBrusk arrives at the right time
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. DeBrusk certainly had his motor going for most of the first six games. He just needed the results to go along with it.
A year removed from his triumphant two-goal coming out party in Game 7, DeBrusk finally got on the scoresheet in Game 6 with a tap-in on a beautiful pass from David Krejci to give the Bruins a 3-1 second-period lead.
“I dropped with Krech [Krejci] and I understood that [the puck] was going to come back to me at some point,” DeBrusk said about his first goal of the series. “I just tried to extend my stick and get there, and I was lucky enough to cash in on that.”
The 2015 first rounder’s production dropped off a bit after being all over the ice in Game 2. His energy resulted in a frustrated Leafs squad trying to counter his hard skating. It concluded with Nazem Kadri’s series-ending suspension after taking exception to DeBrusk’s hard hit on Patrick Marleau.
DeBrusk had his legs going in front of a hostile crowd. He backed up his public-enemy-number-one label with another hard-nosed performance. Now he’ll look to duplicate his Game 7 outing from last season in front of the TD Garden faithful on Tuesday night.