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NHL

The Bruins’ Other Guys Were Too Little Too Late

Leo Komarov and David Pastrnak fight for the puck
Adam Glanzman/Getty

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: The “perfection line” is a dumb, pretentious name for a group of three dudes. If anyone used my name in connection with the word “perfection” I’d be embarrassed, because I am not an egomaniac and I do not like to be perceived as one. Perhaps that is why I am not currently a member of the Boston Bruins.

Anyway, that’s what they call the Bruins line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand—”they” being, as I understand it, specifically the national guys at NBC. And though nobody could live up to the expectations set by that moniker, they’ve really tried their best in this playoff series against the Islanders. The Bruins have scored 14 non–empty net goals so far in the five games of this series, and that so-called Perfection Line has been involved in 10 of them. For the playoffs as a whole, Pasta leads the team with seven goals, then it’s Marchand with five, and Bergeron with four. And they’ve been coming at killer times, too. Marchand’s OT winner won Boston Game 3. He and Bergeron scored the two third-period goals that sent Game 2 to extra time. And Pastrnak’s hat trick is what won Game 1, 5-2.

The trend continued for the Bruins in Game 5, but it wasn’t quite enough to get them the win. Pastrnak opened the scoring 85 seconds in with a booming one-timer past the slow-starting Semyon Varlamov, and then Marchand …. *sigh* … Marchand scored a really pretty goal midway through the second that saw him completely undress Ryan Pulock.

And then Pastrnak got the Bruins’ third goal of the night on the power play in the third with another, very similar-looking one-timer. But here’s the problem: all that did was make the score 5-3 Islanders. David Krejci sneaked one in with five minutes to go—his second of the playoffs—without any assistance from Perfection, and that made this game a nail-biter, but in the end, it was too little, too late. The Islanders clamped down, allowed the Bruins just three shot attempts after the Krejci goal, and won 5-4 to earn an opportunity to clinch the series back on the Island.

The Isles, in a lot of ways, were lucky to take this one. They were outshot 44 to 19 by the Bruins. They somehow managed to knock out Boston goalie Tuukka Rask for the first time all playoffs, after he allowed four goals on 16 shots. And, most importantly, they blew the Bruins away on their power plays. Against the team with the second-best PK in the NHL this season, the Isles went 3-for-4 with the extra man, getting fortunate with a Charlie Coyle broken stick on Jordan Eberle’s tally and enjoying a wonderful bounce in their favor that led to Kyle Palmieri’s tap-in.

However, despite the luck, in a playoffs where the league’s highest-paid superstars are failing to stick around, there’s something positive to be said for the Isles’ top-to-bottom production. Even with the acquisition of Taylor Hall (who hasn’t scored on a goalie all series), the Bruins are a team that only feels truly dangerous during the 20 minutes a game where its top three skaters are out there together. The Islanders, though, have guys who can capitalize on their chances scattered throughout every unit. Their top scorer on the year, Brock Nelson, was tied for 50th among all NHLers, which is not a good thing in and of itself. But the fact that the Isles’ top seven scorers this postseason have all contributed between three and six goals in 11 games speaks to how they’ve been able to win.

Young stud Mat Barzal couldn’t find the net early on the postseason but has now exploded for six points in four games. Palmieri, the mid-season pickup from Jersey, leads everyone in goals after scoring just two in 17 regular season games for the Islanders. Nelson was the hero of the clinching game against Pittsburgh and finally got one in the Boston series on Monday. J-G Pageau and Josh Bailey both scored on the power play in a 4-3 Game 2 victory, forcing an OT where Casey Cizikas of all people got the winner.

Financially, it’s unfair to cast the Bruins as the top-heavy foils to a scrappy underdog gang—this series, after all, pits the sixth-highest spenders in the league against the ninth, and anyway the three Perfection Line salaries rank between 71st and 99th among NHL cap hits. (That’s a damn bargain!) The reality of this series—the problem, if you’re Boston—isn’t a moral or philosophical debate but a practical difference that sticks out more and more as one or two weird deflections can turn seasons on their heads. (No, Bruce Cassidy, it’s not the refs.) The Islanders can seemingly conjure a goal at any time, from any line, while the Bruins can only do so about a third of the time, from one line. Facing elimination in Game 6, the Perfection Line has to be feeling desperate for reinforcements.