TORONTO — If the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have success against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will have to keep Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak under control.
Game 1 is at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, NESN).
“Heck of a unit, one of the top ones,” Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “What I struggle with about them is they know where each other are without looking for each other. They have these automatic plays. You think they might do one thing and it’s a no-look pass instead of a one-timer, and it can end up in your net in a hurry. They’re really, really dangerous with that when you can’t predict.”
[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]
Hainsey, defense partner Morgan Rielly, and forwards Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri and Mitchell Marner, are likely to draw the assignment on most occasions. Hainsey knows that shutting them down will require defensive awareness from everyone.
“Best-case scenario is to keep them out of our zone as much as possible,” Hainsey said. “That’s easier said than done. They’re going to get in our zone sometimes and get some time to make plays but the better we are at using all five guys on the ice to limit the time in our zone, the better we’ll be. If they get time and space, they have the ability to make plays against whoever it is. They’ve proven that over the last couple of years.”
Kadri said Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak each bring a different skill set to the line. Though each player excels in one area, they can all play different roles and that makes them harder to defend.
NHL Tonight: Bruins-Leafs Preview
03:14 • April 9th, 2018
“They have components at all three positions, they all work, their work ethic is great,” Kadri said. “Bergeron does some dirty work and plays with skill. Marchand is a bit of the playmaker with shiftiness and elusiveness, and Pastrnak is the shooter and goal scorer. The thing is though, they all can do each thing, which makes them more dangerous.”
Bergeron and Pasternak each had four points (two goals, two assists) in four games, and Marchand three points (two goals, one assist) in three games, against the Maple Leafs during the regular season. To make his point about their unpredictability, Hainsey referenced a goal Bergeron scored during Toronto’s 3-2 overtime win Nov. 10
Marchand got the puck in the corner at the goal line and carried it along the boards to the hash marks, finding Bergeron with a short pass to the top of the circle for a one-timer. Hainsey said he thought he was close enough to Bergeron to prevent the pass.
Bergeron’s blast opens scoring
00:59 • November 11th, 2017
“I just didn’t think Marchand would put the puck there, but he did and it was in,” Hainsey said.
Hainsey was also victimized on a goal during the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on April 7. Unlike Bergeron’s goal that caught Hainsey by surprise, he read the play properly and knew what was coming.
Petry’s fortuitous PPG
01:00 • April 8th, 2018
“I saw [Canadiens defenseman] Jeff Petry look for the guy at the back door, so I moved my stick there to break up the pass,” Hainsey said. “I ended up knocking it in the net. It was a pretty nice tip for them but that’s beside the point. The (Bergeron line) doesn’t do that. I don’t know where they’re going a lot of the time and it makes it very challenging.”
Kadri did not hesitate to share his strategy to try and contain the Bruins’ top line.
“Aggressive every time,” Kadri said. “Those guys are too good to give them space. There are times where you are going to be a little more passive because you don’t want to get beat one on one, or you don’t want them to spin off you, but there are certain areas of the ice where you can have some forgiveness of that. But usually, it’s about being as aggressive as possible.”