Boston Bruins Stare Down Elimination as Offense Falls Flat in Game 5

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Boston Bruins Stare Down Elimination as Offense Falls Flat in Game 5
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The Stanley Cup will be at TD Garden on Monday night with the Boston Bruins facing elimination after a frustrating 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 5 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

Trailing 3-2 in a Cup final isn't an unfamiliar situation for this Bruins team, which lost Game 5 on the road to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. They ended up winning Game 6 at home and hoisted the Stanley Cup following a shutout victory in Game 7.

Boston scored nine goals in the final two games of that series, and it will need a similar offensive explosion on Monday to earn another trip to the United Center.

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The Bruins offense took a massive step back on Saturday after scoring five goals in Game 4. Boston had just 16 shots on goal through two periods and finished the game with only 25—the team's lowest total of the series.

Boston was also outchanced 14-8 in the final 40 minutes, and its only goal of the game was scored by defenseman Zdeno Chara nearly four minutes into the third period.

There were too many passengers on the ice for Boston who weren't being aggressive in the attacking zone. Brad Marchand (one shot), Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly (zero shots) and Tyler Seguin (one shot) were scoreless in Game 5 and made almost no impact offensively.

Daniel Paille was the only Bruins forward who tallied more than two shots on goal, which is why the team failed to generate many quality scoring chances late in the third period trailing by a single goal.

For the Bruins offense to wake up and give goaltender Tuukka Rask some support, the team's first line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton must be more productive. As the chart below shows, this trio has been ineffective in the attacking zone since a strong Game 1 performance.

Player Game 1 Games 2-5
Krejci 0G, 2A 0G, 2A
Horton 0G, 1A 0G, 1A
Lucic 2G, 1A 1G, 0A
Total 2G, 4A 1G, 3A

Without consistent scoring from this line, the Bruins don't have enough scoring depth to beat a high-powered Blackhawks team with superstar winger Patrick Kane scoring three goals in the past two games.

Scott Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Damaging the Bruins' depth is the injury to Patrice Bergeron, who leads the series in goals scored (four) and is arguably the best two-way player in the league. He played just 6:06 of ice time in Game 5 and, according to the team, was "taken to a local hospital in Chicago for observation."

Bruins head coach Claude Julien didn't provide an update on Bergeron's condition in his postgame press conference.

Boston dominated in the faceoff dot in the prior four games, with Bergeron winning a series-high 65 percent (85-of-130) of his draws. Without their best center in Game 5, the Bruins lost the faceoff battle 33-24. Failing to win faceoffs is why the Bruins didn't have much puck possession on Saturday, which resulted in them having to defend in their own end way too often.

Taking Bergeron's spot on the second line was 27-year-old rookie Carl Soderberg, who impressed in his playoff debut alongside Marchand and Jaromir Jagr. It will be interesting to see if the Swedish center remains on the second line for Game 6 given his lack of experience and chemistry with the top-six forwards.

"I thought we could use [Soderberg], and although he had very limited experience in this league, he's still a pretty skilled player and had a good year," said Julien after Game 5. "I thought if we were going to give him a shot, tonight was probably a good time for it."

Scott Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The best decision would be to demote Jagr and Soderberg to the third line and promote Kelly and Seguin to the second line. Here's how Boston's lines could look if Bergeron misses Game 6:

Line LW C RW
1 Lucic Krejci Horton
2 Marchand Kelly Seguin
3 Paille Soderberg Jagr
4 Caron Peverley Thornton

One problem for the Bruins is that the Blackhawks are clogging up the neutral zone and making it very difficult for players to enter the attacking zone cleanly.

This is why Boston must dump the puck below the goal line and use its size and strength advantage to win possession with a strong forecheck and create sustained offensive zone pressure. Trying to weave through the neutral zone is going to result in turnovers from Blackhawks players poke checking the puck and creating odd-man rushes.

When the Bruins do get in the attacking zone, they must create traffic in front of the net and fire as many shots as possible on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

He's shown weaknesses in this series, especially glove side (11 goals given up glove side), and it's important for Boston to pressure him early and often in Game 6. The B's failed to do this in Game 5 by making too many passes and looking for the perfect setup. That is the wrong strategy against a strong defensive opponent such as Chicago.

The Bruins are getting tremendous goaltending from Rask, who has given his team a chance to win every game in this series. He made several excellent saves in Game 5, including a couple of clutch stops in the third period when Boston was surging forward in search of a tying goal.

But expecting Rask to be perfect and bail out the team's struggling offense at this stage of the playoffs is not a wining formula, especially when the opponent is capable of scoring four or more goals any night.

Not allowing an opponent to skate with the Stanley Cup on your home ice is a powerful motivator. For the Bruins to prevent a Blackhawks celebration on Monday and extend the series to a Game 7, their offense has to be more aggressive and capitalize on its scoring chances.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. All quotes obtained firsthand or from NHL media notes.

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