Three areas where Bruins must improve to eliminate Leafs in Game 6

Three areas where Bruins must improve to eliminate Leafs in Game 6 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins are still in control of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but their margin for error is getting smaller.

The Bruins held a 3-1 series lead with a chance to eliminate the Leafs in Tuesday's Game 5 at TD Garden. Instead of punching their ticket to the second round, the B's lost 2-1 in overtime in an ugly performance.

Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery was visibly frustrated in his postgame press conference, and that emotion wasn't gone by the time he met the media following Wednesday's practice.

"I'm still pissed off from last night, to be honest," Montgomery said after the Bruins' optional practice. "I don't understand and don't accept our play last night. I'm going to be pissed off until the puck drops (in Game 6)."

The series shifts back to Toronto for Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night. The Bruins should be plenty confident going into that building. They played really well in Games 3 and 4 last week, earning a pair of impressive victories. The Leafs also have lost six consecutive home playoff games dating back to the first round last season.

But after blowing a 3-1 lead and losing to the Florida Panthers in the first round last year, the pressure will continue to mount for the Bruins if they fail in Game 6 and have to return home for Game 7 on Saturday night.

Here are three areas the Bruins must improve in to beat the Leafs in Game 6 and avoid another Game 7 on home ice.

David Pastrnak needs to get going offensively

Pastrnak is the Bruins' best player and the engine that drives their attack. He did not play well in Game 5, registering four shots with zero points despite leading B's forwards with 20:06 of ice time. He also didn't tally a single high-danger scoring chance in 18:30 of 5-on-5 ice time.

Pastrnak has four points in five games, which isn't bad by any means. We've seen takeover games by Auston Matthews (Game 2) and Brad Marchand (Games 3 and 4) in this series, but Pastrnak has yet to dominate a matchup in this series. There hasn't been a signature moment or a signature game from him yet. That's unusual for him against the Leafs in the playoffs.

Back in the 2019 first-round series, Pastrnak scored twice in the Bruins' 6-4 win in Game 4 that tied the series. He scored once with two assists in Game 1 of the 2018 first-round series, then followed it up with a six-point performance (including a hat trick) in Game 2.

Pastrnak averaged 2.91 shots per game at 5-on-5 during the regular season. He's at just 1.4 per game in this series so far. The Leafs have a 43-23 edge in scoring chances during Pastrnak's 73:46 of 5-on-5 ice time through five games, per Natural Stat Trick. That's not all Pastrnak's fault, of course, but for the ice to be tilted that far in Toronto's favor is not an encouraging trend for the Bruins.

Pastrnak is an elite offensive player who just wrapped up his third straight season of 40-plus goals and second consecutive 100-point campaign. The Bruins need a little more offensive production from him at 5-on-5 to increase their chances of ending the series Thursday.

Better start

You never want to give a team on the ropes -- which the Leafs were entering Game 5 -- any reason for optimism or belief in the first period. You need to send a message right away. The Bruins failed miserably in that regard to begin Tuesday's loss by playing so poorly in all three zones and allowing the Leafs to open the scoring just 5:56 into the game.

Multiple icings, losing 16 of 20 faceoffs, and generating almost nothing offensively (just two shots and two scoring chances) were among Boston's main problems in the first period of Game 5. Shot attempts were 30-7 in favor of the Leafs during the period. The Bruins did manage to go into the first intermission tied at one goal apiece, but it was clear to the Leafs that the game was very winnable for them.

There was no excuse for the Bruins to have no urgency and execute so poorly right from the opening faceoff. They knew the Leafs would play desperate hockey and they still didn't come close to matching that intensity.

The first goal is always important, but it might be more so for the Leafs in Game 6 given the fact they're season is on the line and they're the home team. An early Bruins goal could take the crowd out of the game and plant a seed of doubt in the Leafs' minds. That's why a strong start is so crucial for the Bruins. They can't give the Leafs and their crowd any reason to believe a series comeback is very much achievable.


The Bruins need to possess the puck more in Game 6, and one way to do that is by consistently winning faceoffs.

The Leafs have dominated in the faceoff circle this series. They've won 55.1 percent of all faceoffs, the third-best win rate of the 16 teams that reached the playoffs. The Bruins rank third-worst at 44.9 percent. They were at 49.5 percent in the regular season.

Game 5 was particularly bad for the Bruins in the faceoff circle. The Leafs won 16 of 20 draws in the first period (including 10 of 14 in Boston's zone) and finished with a 33-of-53 win rate (62.3 percent). The Leafs' first goal was the result of a faceoff win after the Bruins had iced the puck.

The Bruins are winning just 41.8 percent of their defensive zone draws through five games in Round 1. They won 52.5 percent of those faceoffs in the regular season.

Montgomery made John Beecher a healthy scratch in Game 5 even though the rookie center leads the Bruins with a 54.8 faceoff win percentage in the series. Putting Beecher back into the lineup would help the B's on faceoffs in Game 6, but it can't be his responsibility alone. Charlie Coyle (46.4 percent) and Pavel Zacha (42.7) need to be much better in this area, too.