How Will The Bruins Mentally, Physically Approach Game 6?

The Boston Bruins lost 2-1 in overtime in Game 5 at TD Garden Tuesday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs, forcing a Game 6.
By the numbers: Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs series preview - The Athletic

Charlie McAvoy stood in front of his locker at Warrior Ice Arena Wednesday morning and had little interest in talking about the Boston Bruins’ 2023 playoff run.

His team, for the second postseason in a row, dropped a clinching Game 5 on home ice in overtime. This time around, it was a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night at TD Garden. The first-round series now shifts to Scotiabank Arena for Game 6 with the Bruins leading 3-2. The defenseman refuses to dwell on the comparisons to last year’s collapse against the Florida Panthers.

“Well, starting by not reflecting on last year or really anything like that,” McAvoy said Wednesday following Boston’s optional practice. “You get these opportunities in series and you have to make the most of them. The fourth game is the hardest one to get, but we have some experience in it.”

Boston simply did not show up for Game 5. The lack of emotion, effort and urgency – and, perhaps, the presence of pressure – bogged the Bruins down for a majority of the night. They were outshot 11-2 in a ugly first period, went 37.7 percent from the face-off dot and looked disjointed in all three zones.

“I’m still pissed off from last night to be honest,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said Wednesday. “I don’t understand and don’t accept our play last night. I’m going to be pissed off until the puck drops tomorrow night.”

Press Room: Jim Montgomery

They got away from what made them successful in Game 3 and 4. They also had a different look to their lineup.

Montgomery put Matt Grzelcyk on the third pair with Parker Wotherspoon in place of Kevin Shattenkirk. He pulled Johnny Beecher from the fourth line and inserted Justin Brazeau who had been working back from an upper-body injury since April 2.

“I ended up making decisions that I was really confident was best for the Boston Bruins,” Montgomery said. “When it doesn’t work out – I understand it comes with the territory – I’m going to be second guessed, and third and fourth guessed. And rightfully so.”

Grzelcyk and Brazeau weren’t individually the reason the Bruins were unable to close out on Tuesday. But, there is something to say about sticking with what’s working in the playoffs.

Grzelcyk logged 18:56 of total ice time and got off to a rough start in the opening frame. While the veteran defenseman improved incrementally, he failed to seal off John Tavares on Toronto’s game-winning goal. Brazeau had 10:03 of total ice time and was, well, fine. He looked like a guy getting his first game action in nearly a month, which he was.

“Rusty,” Montgomery said of Brazeau. “His wall work wasn’t as good as what it was usually…Didn’t get to his spots where he can usually hang onto pucks a little bit more. Did it a couple of times, but not often enough.”

Photos of Flyers win over the Bruins

Now the question becomes, who is Montogmery going to roll with for Game 6? Beecher and Shattenkirk may not have shined on every shift through the first four games, but they were part of winning hockey. The Bruins need to win a game, one game.

“Beecher and ‘Shatty’ in particular always have responded when they get back into the lineup with a really good effort,” Montgomery said. “That gives you confidence to put them back in.”

Without Shattenkirk in the lineup, Montgomery also tweaked the power play units – which had produced six goals in four games leading up to Game 5. Tuesday was the first game the Bruins did not have a goal on the man advantage this series.

Beyond the adjustments, Boston needed more from everyone. Brad Marchand – who leads the Bruins with eight points (three goals, five assists) in the playoffs – was held to zero shots on goal. Jake DeBrusk – who is second behind Marchand with five points (three goals, two assists) – had one shot on goal.

Boston knows how to beat Toronto, but it has to win the mental battle here too.

“Not only are you against your opponent, but you’re against human nature too…Really that’s on us to be a mature group here,” McAvoy said. “To realize where we are, but to stay in the moment and stay together.”

The Bruins are going into an arena Thursday for Game 6 in which they’ve won the two previous games in. That should give them confidence. Whether they can pierce through the pressure and get back to a simple, direct game will determine the rewrite of their first-round history.

“Failing or having failures in life and not learning from them is when it can repeat,” Montgomery said. “For me, it’s picking yourself back up and talking and being honest with each other about where we’re at, and how we can get better.”

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