By DAVID SHOALTS
Thursday, April 12, 2018
BRIGHTON, MASS. -- on Hainsey thinks trying to R defend against the Boston Bruins' top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is like an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. And just about as much fun.
"I don't know where they're going a lot of the time and it makes it very, very challenging," said Hainsey, who will see a lot of that line as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs' top defence pair with Morgan Rielly, starting Thursday night in Boston when their first-round NHL playoff series begins.
The way Hainsey sees it, they are constantly popping up in open spaces, ready to take a blind pass from one of the others and bury a one-timer. The constant motion works well enough that all three Bruins hit 30 goals this season. Pastrnak, by far the youngest member of the trio at 21, led the way with 35 while Marchand, 29, had 34 and Bergeron, 32, scored 30.
"What I struggle with them is they know where each other is without looking," Hainsey said.
"They have these automatic plays where Bergeron and Pastrnak, especially on that side, the right, you think they might do one thing and it's a no-look pass to one of them for a one-timer and it can end up in your net in a hurry.
"They're really, really dangerous with that. You can't predict exactly what with them."
Hainsey's concerns were put to Marchand after the Bruins finished practising on Wednesday afternoon. He considered the Leaf defenceman's run to the Stanley Cup last season when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins and his stint with the Leafs this season, in which they went 3-1 against the Bruins.
"It doesn't seem like Ron's had a tough time shutting us down the last couple years," Marchand said. "I think he's got it figured out."
In the four games between the Leafs and Bruins this season, perhaps. In those games, the Bruins line was held to a total of six goals and five assists. The Leafs could also throw in the fact they were missing Auston Matthews for three of those games.
However, in keeping with the NHL axiom that regular-season records must be tossed out the window for the playoffs, there is no question Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has a plan for the three Bruins.
"They're elite players any way you look at it," Babcock said on Wednesday. "Bergeron is real good in the faceoff circle, they all work real hard and compete real hard.
"Marchand and Bergeron are elite penalty killers so they know how to play the game without the puck and for the longest part of the year they hardly got scored on."
While Babcock is not strictly a match-up coach, one who is willing to disrupt his team's rhythm by changing on the fly in away games to get the line match-ups he wants, he does like to put one unit against another when he can without too much trouble. But it is not clear just how he will approach the Bergeron line.
The only certainty is Hainsey and Rielly will be on the ice as much as possible against them.
With the forward lines, Babcock has the luxury of assigning the Bergeron line to his shutdown unit of Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner. He could also restore noted pest Leo Komarov to Kadri's line in place of Marner. And there is the chance Matthews and his wingers Zach Hyman and William Nylander will play opposite Bergeron and company.
What is interesting about this is Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is not a match-up guy. When someone asked him what would happen if he found himself trying to match lines with a match-up coach, Cassidy said, "I'd probably lose the match-ups then, right?" Kidding aside, Cassidy allowed he plans to use his home-ice advantage of last change in the first two games of the series to put the Bergeron line against Matthews's line. But only up to a point.
"I think they will see Matthews and Nylander," Cassidy said. "Will it be a marriage so to speak? We have generally not chased the game for match-ups. Of course it's playoff time; if we feel we need to do that we will. But [second-line centre] David Krejci is a world-class player."
One thing that might push Cassidy into making sure Matthews sees as much as possible of Bergeron is the Bruins' injury situation. Third-line centre Riley Nash will miss the first game with an undisclosed injury (he's been out since March 31) and Cassidy never hesitated to match him against the opposition's best line.
And there is the matter of the Kadri line being as dangerous offensively as it is defensively.
"At the end of the day, I think Kadri's line is dangerous as well [as the Matthews line]," Cassidy said. "So when [Bergeron] is out there against Kadri, I thought during the regular season they did well against that line. It's a dangerous line.
"We can't focus on, 'Hey, if we shut this one line down everything will fall into place.' I think there's other attacks they have."
Maple Leafs defenceman Ron Hainsey tangles with Bruin Brad Marchand in Toronto in November. Toronto won three of its four games against Boston this season.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES