PNC Arena has not been welcoming to the Bruins.
They lost Games 1, 2 and 5 in Raleigh, N.C. They have been outscored on the road, 15-4. They fell behind in each of the three games.
But Game 7 could be different.
It wasn’t just that the Bruins won Game 6 by a 5-2 score. It was the manner in which they forced a do-or-die showdown.
Forwards from all four lines (Marchand, Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle, Curtis Lazar) put pucks in the net. Lazar, Nick Foligno and Derek Forbort recorded their first points of the series. It will not be the top-heavy Bruins tiptoeing into Raleighwood on Saturday night. It will be the balanced Bruins, better positioned to expect contributions from every segment of the lineup.
“Everybody pulled on the rope yesterday,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t mix up lines. Balanced scoring. Penalty kill came through. Power play, timely goal. Everyone’s doing their part. That’s usually what it takes. The players that play the best will determine this outcome. We’re preparing for it to be our guys.”
This did not look like it would be the case earlier in the series. The balanced lineup — Jake DeBrusk with Marchand and Bergeron, Pastrnak with Haula and Taylor Hall — produced zero wins in the first two games. The big boys, reunited midway through Game 2 and in full for Games 3 and 4, combined for six of the Bruins’ nine goals in their two wins at TD Garden.
But in Game 5, as sometimes happens, the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line did not score. The rest of the lineup was equally quiet.
The result got out of hand.
So before Game 6, Cassidy pulled his top three attackers aside. He gave them a heads-up that their time together was over. They understood.
Faith, after all, can go a long way.
Cassidy’s pregame pitch to the rest of the team was that he trusted what had gotten them there: Pastrnak on the second line, Trent Frederic (a healthy scratch for Games 3 through 5) in uniform with Coyle and Craig Smith, Tomas Nosek back in the middle between Foligno and Lazar.
Hall and Haula were excited to ride with Pastrnak again. Coyle and Smith welcomed Frederic back to their line. All of them appreciated Cassidy’s trust. They were ready to do their part — not just wait for Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak to blaze the trail.
“We’ve played together a good chunk of this year and had some pretty good spurts where we’re playing good hockey, doing the right things,” said Coyle of running with Frederic and Smith once more. “That’s tough for a guy in Trent Frederic who hasn’t played, coming in and playing a high-stakes game like that. That’s a tough thing to do. But he held his own. I like when we’re playing with each other. He does a lot of things well. He’s a playoff-type body. We need those guys in our lineup. We want to be a difference out there.”
Cassidy could very well have turned to his big boys in Game 6. He had last change to free them from the clutches of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast. It would have been the Bruins’ greatest chance of offensive production.
Even had that produced results, it would have returned the Bruins to Square 1 in Game 7: a top-heavy lineup against a Carolina team with last change.
It isn’t that way anymore. Even if Rod Brind’Amour matches the Staal line against Marchand, Bergeron and DeBrusk, the Hurricanes coach cannot make silencing the top trio a priority. The Hall-Haula-Pastrnak threesome scored the Game 6 winner — off the cycle, no less, instead of the rush.
“I’m glad they scored that way,” Cassidy said of the second line. “It’ll make them feel better about their game. Give them some confidence that they can do it again on Saturday.”
Smith had a breakaway in the third period. The fourth line submitted its best performance of the series.
Carrying Game 6 momentum into Saturday, however, won’t be enough to keep the Bruins’ season going. They’ll need Hampus Lindholm, brilliant in his Game 6 return, to continue being a difference-making defenseman. Jeremy Swayman will have to be as sharp as he was Thursday. The Bruins will have to practice greater discipline than in their previous Raleigh visits, when the Hurricanes had 17 power-play opportunities to their 11.
“We’ve gotten ourselves in penalty trouble. We know that,” said Cassidy. “Our penalty kill’s been exceptional when we’ve won. We’re going to need that. They’re a very good team at drawing penalties, and they’re a very good team at selling penalties. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing hard but intelligent. When we are in the box, our kill has to come through for us.”
The Bruins’ most important players bear the good and bad scars of prior Game 7s. In 2011, Bergeron and Marchand emerged with wins against Montreal, Tampa Bay and Vancouver. In 2019, Bergeron and Marchand lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice to St. Louis. Saturday will be Bergeron’s 13th Game 7, most of any forward in NHL history.
“It makes you want more,” the Bruins captain said of losing. “You want to get back at it and seize the opportunity.”
But the thing about the Game 6 lineup changes — and the results they produced — is that the Bruins aren’t depending solely on Bergeron and Marchand anymore. The Game 7 hero is now more likely to emerge from anywhere in the lineup, not just from the top line.
Now they believe.
(Photo: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images)