So if we just continue down the current path, Brind’Amour will again flip the match ups to get Staal playing against Bergeron’s line which has always included Marchand and at times included Pastrnak who has logged more ice time on the second line in the games in Raleigh.
And if you are a Canes fan, the hope is very predictable results that match the first three games in Raleigh. Thus far, Staal’s line has won that match up most significantly by keeping Bergeron’s line for loading the score sheet like they have in Boston and even scoring a bit on their own. The result has been three home wins, none of which were by less than two goals.
But here’s the thing…Will Bruins bench boss try a fourth time to go back to that well just hoping his guys can play better maybe with minor tactical adjustments to help? Or instead will he try to upset the apple cart?
I actually advocated for Brind’Amour to move Teravainen to Aho’s line in game 6 in Boston to see if the Aho/Teravainen chemistry could provide a spark and also if adding Teravainen to the top line could help short it up a bit defensively. Brind’Amour instead tried a third time with the same formula and got the same result for the third time with Aho having a tough night and being on the ice for four of the five goals against.
It might not be right out of the gate, but I actually think Cassidy could go chaos mode with lines to see if he can get away from the current path, maybe gain a favorable match up or two here and there and maybe most significantly to see if he can get Brind’Amour chasing match ups too hard. If one thinks about what has worked in Boston but realizing that Cassidy cannot get exactly that, I think he could try pairing both Marchand and Pastrnak with another center, possibly Haula. That still leaves Taylor Hall to play with Bergeron to have some possible scoring on his wing. That change would force Brind’Amour to decide if he wanted to use Staal against Pastrnak and Marchand or against Bergeron and Hall. In terms of continuing to stymie offense, I think Brind’Amour would likely choose to mark Marchand and Pastrnak. But if Brind’Amour went that route, that leaves Aho facing Bergeron much of the night again which is probably not ideal from a Canes perspective. That and/or just being a bit more random at least has the potential to be different (which is good when you lost three straight all by two or more goals) and also break the rhythm on the Canes side.
One would expect the Canes brain trust to work through a number of possible changes by the Bruins and come to the rink on Saturday with a tactical strategy for about anything.
We will see late Saturday afternoon, but because of how the series has gone, I think there is a good chance we see a fascinating game of cat and mouse.
Aside from the potential match up game, I see the keys to the game as follows:
1) More of the same from Staal’s line
Niederreiter/Staal/Fast have been the key to the Canes wins so far. Even if Cassidy switches some things up, their continued strong play represents a great foundation on which a game can be built. If they end up in a shut down role against Bergeron and Marchand (with or without Pastrnak), they really just need to play even hockey and keep that group from going off like they did in Boston. But if instead, they find themselves playing against more of a split group, scoring becomes a bit more important.
2) A BIG game from Aho’s line
Svechnikov broke through in game 5 for two goals that were his first two non-empty net scoring points of the series. Aho had a tough game on Thursday. Especially in a game 7, the team whose best players play best usually wins. The Canes will need a decent or better outing from Aho’s line to win game 7 and the series.
3) Stay out of the box
One significant positive on Thursday was the Canes decreased penalties in Boston. They still lost the special teams battle when they could not capitalize on 54 seconds of 5-on-3 and a couple other second period power plays, but they at least gave themselves a chance to succeed by taking fewer penalties. As I said entering game 5, best is just to stay out of the box and play as much as possible 5-on-5.
4) Goalie play
Swayman has been steady. I think Raanta has been even better. The current path would suggest that game 7 will be decided by which team’s skaters play better, but if either goalie cracks under the game 7 pressure, you can quickly figure out who wins.
The puck drops at about 4:37pm for the first game 7 in Raleigh since June 19, 2006 when Brind’Amour and company hoisted the Cup!