Cassidy calls on Bergeron, Marchand to deliver ‘best game of series’

HC at Noon discussion on what adjustments Bruce Cassidy's club needs to make in Game 3, starting with replacing an injured Matt Grzelcyk, and removing David Pastrnak off the top line, to spice things up.

ST. LOUIS – There are two ways to view the St. Louis Blues’ impressive quieting of the most complete line in hockey over the course of the first 123 minutes and 51 seconds of the Stanley Cup Final, and each will frighten a different fan base.

Either this is a sign that Craig Berube’s big, bruising troops have cracked the code and discovered imperfections where there were thought to be none, which is a scary thought for a cruising veteran squad that has suddenly fumbled away home ice to the roster with no rings.

Or Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak — a typically dominant triumvirate that could fairly be categorized somewhere between dormant to disastrous through two games — are a ticking timebomb about to explode.

“That’s kind of been the way the playoffs have gone for them, right? In every series, you give them enough time and enough reps against a certain matchup, they’re smart-enough hockey players, they know what’s going to be open and they’ll find a way to break through,” Bruins defenceman Torey Krug said.

“They’re our leaders, and obviously we need them to be better, and they will be. Every series they’ve found a way to get it done, and we have so much confidence in them.”

Recent history bears that out.

Coach Bruce Cassidy noted Thursday that Bergeron & Co. relied on their defence and power-play prowess to work their way out of even-strength offensive funks against Toronto’s John Tavares and Mitch Marner in Round 1, Columbus’s Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson in Round 2, and Carolina’s Jordan Staal and Justin Williams in the Eastern Conference Final.

In short, they’ve at least been able to nullify the opponent’s big dogs, generally allowing Boston’s depth to win the day when the top-six duels were a draw.

The problem in this series, however, is that the Blues’ top trio of Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz has so dominated Cassidy’s best-on-best matchup, the coach was forced to get away from the clash early, attempting to free Bergeron’s group midway through Game 1 by giving Sean Kuraly’s “fourth line” the Schenn assignment.

“Their forecheck is good,” Brandon Carlo says of the Schenn line. “I definitely recognize that as a defenceman — they’re right on top of you. Right when you turn, they’re in your face. We need to get pucks by them and chip it out from there.”

In Game 2, Cassidy demoted the uncharacteristically silent Pastrnak to the second line and bumped up Danton Heinen.

Boston blinked first — because Cassidy could no longer stare into the maw of a train wreck.

Marchand (minus-2), Bergeron (minus-2) and Pastrnak (minus-3) are all on the ice watching the Blues celebrate, their only point being a Marchand empty-netter in Game 1. Bergeron gave the puck away four times in Game 1, more than anyone on the ice. Ditto Marchand in Game 2.

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Also in Game 2, the Selke finalist went a dismal 38 per cent in the face-off dot and played a mere 16:16 despite five Bruins power plays and the contest needing overtime.

The Perfection Line’s Corsi line was an atrocious 26.7 per cent, while Schenn’s was 71.4 per cent. The performance was so dismal that another round of “Is Bergeron secretly injured?” murmurs — a speculative narrative that dates back to the Maple Leafs series — is making the rounds.

Schenn’s group, meanwhile, has looked strong, smart and tenacious. They’re all on the plus side of the ledger, the piping-hot Tarasenko extending his scoring streak to eight games with a second-effort backhand beauty Wednesday.

Credit Tarasenko for sticking with the puck; blame Marchand’s soft backcheck for allowing the Final’s hottest threat two chances in tight.

“We need to be better. Personally, I wasn’t good the last two games, so we can’t be playing like that,” said Marchand, calm in the wake of Wednesday’s blown-lead OT loss. “It’s taking care of the little details. I think that’s the biggest thing. It will come.

“We’re not worried about it. We’ll get back to work and worry about the next one.”

As the series shifts to St. Louis, where the Blues hold last change, Berube is likely to keep feeding Bergeron a steady diet of Schenn and that long and strong shutdown pair of Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko.

“They’re a really good line, you know,” Bergeron said. “They play well together, they’re hard on the forecheck, they’re good at turning pucks over and sustaining some pressure with that cycling game, and they capitalized. And for us, it’s about being better, and we’ve dealt with this these whole playoffs against different lines.

“So, we look videos, we look at tendencies. We also know how we can play and play the right way. And I think sometimes it’s about simplifying but also taking care of the puck in your own zone before they get on offence.”

Cassidy is calling “small sample size” and exuding confidence in a threesome that has produced a whopping 308 points (despite multiple injuries) since the puck dropped in October.

“Any team would tell you when your best players perform you have a better chance to win. We’re not different,” Cassidy said.

“They’ve always found their game, usually don’t go very long without being a factor. I don’t imagine that will change. I suspect in Game 3 we’ll see their best game of the series.”

That wouldn’t be a high bar to clear.

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