Bruins' Last Stand? Boston Faces Uncertain Future Ahead of Do-or-Die Game 6

Abbey MastraccoMay 12, 2022

Raleigh - May 10: Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron walks out of the tunnel after the pre-game pre-skate. The Carolina Hurricanes host the Boston Bruins in game 5 of the NHL Playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on May 10, 2022. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Bruce Cassidy has a few lines he tends to repeat when it comes to his team. 

"Frustration is a useless emotion," is one of the Boston Bruins coach's oft-repeated lines.

"We're not a team that can flip a switch," is another. "We have to build our game and play with momentum." 

The second one is something the team has echoed as well. Throughout a three-day period late in April, a few members of the Bruins and their leadership core continually talked about how they are a team that needs to be playing their best hockey at the right time. 

If ever there were a time to flip a switch, it would be now, as the Bruins are fighting for their lives in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes. Down 3-2 in the series, they probably find themselves fighting some "useless" emotions.

This particular team isn't just fighting to stay alive in the postseason, it's fighting to keep the window of contention open. And the Bruins aren't alone in that they're trying to give their core one last shot at a title. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings also fit that narrative with aging cores and expiring contracts on the horizon. 

It wasn't that long ago that this team was in the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the St. Louis Blues in 2019. Much of the core is still intact, but for how much longer? When the Bruins take the TD Garden Ice on Thursday night, the question we'll all be asking is, is this the end of an era? 

Perennial Selke Trophy candidate and captain Patrice Bergeron could retire following the conclusion of the season. Despite the fact that he is still the gold standard for two-way forwards in the game, his contract is up, he's 36 years old and there have been suggestions that he's ready to hang up the skates. 

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 04: Boston Bruins Center Patrice Bergeron (37) and Boston Bruins Winger Brad Marchand (63) react to scoring during game 2 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the Boston Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes on May 4, 2022 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Katherine Gawlik/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Katherine Gawlik/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Veteran goalie Tuukka Rask retired this season after attempting a brief comeback. Top scorer Brad Marchand is signed through the 2024-25 season but isn't getting any younger at the age of 34.

The "Perfection Line" (Bergeron, Marchand and David Pastrnak), which led the B's to the 2019 Cup Final and has been the biggest catalyst for the team's success throughout the last five seasons, was reunited over the weekend in Boston in Games 3 and 4, scoring six of the team's nine goals in those two games. Cassidy played his chess pieces masterfully in the two home games last weekend to even the series at 2-2, but Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour had last change on Tuesday night in Raleigh, and it worked out in his favor.

The problem with the Perfection Line is that the rest of the team's groupings aren't nearly as impactful. So what happens when that line is neutralized, as we saw in Game 5? Should the Bruins force a Game 7, Brind'Amour will once again have the last-change advantage. 

“You need the guys behind them, following them. That’s what we’re looking at,” Cassidy said after the Game 5 loss. “The middle of the order, whatever you want to call it, they can bring more offensively. If not, they’ve got to be real tight defensively. Get the job done at the other end."

Cassidy put the lines in a blender to attempt to generate more offense in Game 5. Taylor Hall, Erik Haula, Craig Smith, Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk have to drive some offense. Hall might be four years removed from his Hart Trophy campaign, but we know he is capable of doing it. DeBrusk has been good on the power play, but at 5-on-5 the Bruins are struggling to control 50 percent of the shot share with him on the ice.

Boston's depth forwards typically play a more conservative game, but they have to be more aggressive come Thursday.

The good news in the short-term is that defenseman Hampus Lindholm is set to return for Game 6. He's a strong two-way blueliner who can move the puck and jump into the play in the offensive zone, and Boston acquired him at the trade deadline with the hopes of utilizing those skills in the postseason. Derek Forbort is having a strong series, and Charlie McAvoy cleared COVID-19 protocol Tuesday and is set to play in the remainder of the series. 

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 2: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins skates into the corner to play the puck in Game One of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes on May 2, 2022 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

McAvoy does a lot of things well, but his most important ability is to act as a fourth forward on the ice with his offensive abilities, though he's most often deployed with the top line.

Maybe it will be enough to overwhelm the Hurricanes' attack.

The one thing the Bruins have that Carolina doesn't is an experienced leadership group. The Canes have played in one conference final since their 2009 run, falling to Boston in 2019. In 2020, Bergeron took the torch from longtime captain Zdeno Chara and continued his tradition of refusing to haze the rookies. He's still considered one of the classiest players in the game.

The captain played a Stanley Cup Final with broken ribs and a punctured lung. He played Game 4 after his eye was gashed and his vision clouded with blood. He also tied the game with an unreal backhand. 

Marchand, for all of his on-ice antics like licking other players, throwing dirty hits and having some choice words for Tony DeAngelo, it's easy to see how he commands respect in the locker room. The veteran carries himself with an authoritative presence and he can be a charismatic speaker. 

Last month, a media member brought his young son to practice. When the child was too shy to ask a question in a press conference, Marchand took the heat off of him by offering advice for a young hockey player. He told him to pretend it's the Stanley Cup when he plays with his buddies out in the street and, above all, to have fun. 

"Every day is about enjoying the game," he said. "That's why we play it—because we love it."

Marchand may only have few days left with his buddy Bergeron. If the Bruins don't have enough behind the top line right now, what happens next season, and the season after that?

Boston's game should be built by now, but if that isn't the case, then maybe we'll soon be using that word in a different context.