BOSTON (CBS) — It was a shift late in the second period that told you all you needed to know about the momentum of this Bruins playoff series against Toronto, and which team is working harder and playing more like it wants a second-round date with the Washington Capitals or New York Rangers.
With Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series still 0-0, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle saw the Bruins had the line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin on the ice for a neutral-zone draw. Carlyle didn’t go with his shutdown line or even another line with a faceoff specialist like Jay McClement between two wings. He went with the line of Nazem Kadri centering Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. The Maple Leafs bench boss knew that by showing more trust in his players they would reward his confidence.
True, Carlyle didn’t have many options on that shift. Tyler Bozak, his top faceoff guy and leading ice-time forward, sat this one out with an injury. Nonetheless, Carlyle went with a one-way line because he knew that the game was shifting in his club’s favor and that building confidence could push that Kadri line to do things it hadn’t done all series.
He was right. No goal was scored, but that Kadri line won the territorial battle. And the Maple Leafs kept on rolling, kept on working and finally pulled out a 2-1 win Sunday night to force at Game 7 at TD Garden on Monday.
It will be the Bruins’ eighth Game 7 in six seasons under Claude Julien. His team is 3-4 in those do-or-die games. Since grabbing a 3-1 series lead, Julien’s minions have done so little doing, they’re on the verge of dying.
The recent shift in this series isn’t about Leafs goaltender James Reimer stealing games or the Bruins battling through another one of their scoring slumps. It’s about flat-out effort. Toronto’s newest shutdown trio of Mikhail Grabovski between Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur combined in Game 6 with Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson to again make David Krejci’s line look human after four games of superstar play from that trio.
And with Krejci’s line finding its kryptonite, the rest of the Bruins’ lines have failed to do anything to pick up the slack. Sure, the “Merlot Line” has generated some energy and chances. That’s what they’re paid to do, and it wouldn’t hurt if one of those chances actually lit the lamp. But the other two lines continued to do an invisible-man act. Did I mention that the Maple Leafs played without Tyler Bozak?
Julien’s loyalty was admirable for a while. But his decision not to juggle his lines in the third in order to light a spark was inexcusable. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin barely deserve ice time, let alone the 6:13 and 5:54 they got, respectively, in the third period in Game 6. Jaromir Jagr looks like he wants to start the hockey version of the Harlem Globetrotters with his puck protection. It’d be nice if he would find the back of the net to cap it off rather than letting the Toronto “Generals” block his shot or eventually steal it from him.
But again, it’s not about scoring. It’s about heart. Every time down the ice, Tuukka Rask is not only facing rubber, he’s facing two or three bodies in blue sweaters bearing down on him. The Leafs are setting up shop outside the blue paint. The Bruins? They’re flying by like they’re riding up to the stop of the CN Tower. There’s no corner work, no body-blocking on the walls. In short, there’s no sign that the Bruins have any real intention of advancing this season.
As Julien said postgame, hopefully “the real Boston club shows up” for Game 7. Through three wins and three losses, I know which one he thinks is the “real” Boston club. He might be wrong.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.