Bruins need to rip up offensive game plan to keep season alive


“Eighteen shots on a goalie throughout three periods is not good enough.”

Boston Bruins' Pavel Zacha (18) celebrates after a goal by Brandon Carlo (not shown) in front of Florida Panthers' Dmitry Kulikov (7) and Sergei Bobrovsky, right, during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Sunday, May 12, 2024, in Boston.
The Bruins beat Sergei Bobrovsky via a point shot from Brandon Carlo in Game 4. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

SUNRISE, Fla. — “Quality over quantity” has been a regular mantra for the Bruins since Jim Montgomery was given the reins nearly two years ago.

In search of more Grade-A chances at 5-on-5 play, Boston augmented its approach in the offensive zone, straying away from Bruce Cassidy’s preachings of peppering the net from all angles.

The results speak for themselves once Boston switched to Montgomery’s system.

During Cassidy’s final season in Boston, the Bruins ranked second in the NHL in shots per game at 36.1. But they ranked 15th overall in 5-on-5 goals during that 2021-22 campaign with 172.

In Montgomery’s two years with Boston, the Bruins have ranked ninth and 22nd, respectively, in shots on goal per game.

But in each of those two seasons, the Bruins scored more 5-on-5 goals than their 2021-22 counterparts (199 in 2022-23, 174 in 2023-24).

It’s a winning strategy, at least against most opponents.

Of course, the Panthers aren’t like most opponents. Nor is Sergei Bobrovsky currently the most dialed-in netminder playing in this current Stanley Cup Playoff field.

Changes will have to be made if the Bruins want to keep their season alive beyond Tuesday night. Ripping up their playbook in the offensive zone might stand as a step in the right direction — at least against Bobrovsky.

“We just got to focus on the task at hand, I think as a group, collectively,” Pat Maroon said Monday. “We played a good first period [in Game 4]. Obviously, we got chances. We’re still not putting pucks enough to the net. Eighteen shots on a goalie throughout three periods is not good enough.”

Over three straight losses to the Panthers, the Bruins have only landed 50 total shots against Bobrovsky. The Panthers over that same stretch? 107 shots on goal against Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark.

Of course, shot volume is not the ultimate determinant in terms of postseason success. The Canucks bested the Oilers in Game 3 on Sunday night by a 4-3 score, despite getting outshot 45-18.

But Bobrovsky’s leaky play (.884 save percentage) in this series, coupled with Boston’s own stagnant offense (14 goals in their last seven games), should shift the Bruins’ strategy towards firing salvo after salvo against Florida’s netminder.

“I just think we’re not shooting enough from the top either,” Maroon added. “And I don’t think we’re getting enough traffic. I think we’ve got to find those second or third opportunities where we’re creating havoc and then we’re jumping on loose pucks.  … We got to take more pucks to the net where we have that opportunity. We’re not doing it.

“When they eventually got 44 shots on net to our 18? Sometimes you can sneak away with a win. But they’ve been doing it the last four games. We’ve got to find ways, we need more value, we need more shots, we need to be more predictable.”

Brandon Carlo’s seeing-eye tally against Bobrovsky in Game 4 stood as a prime example of how a shot-heavy approach might pay dividends against Florida.

An emphasis on shots from the blue line could add another layer to Boston’s attack — especially if Boston makes a concerted effort toward crowding the netfront and taking away Bobrovsky’s eyes.

Carlo isn’t necessarily the blueliner that comes to mind when offensive generation on this Bruins roster. But his approach generated results, especially during a series where Charlie McAvoy has yet to even land a shot on goal against Bobrovsky. 

“I think any time we can get more pucks on net — [Carlo’s] almost seemed like a little knuckle puck and it just found its way in the net,” Andrew Peeke said. “Obviously, for us seeing that, any time you can put the puck in that area — whether it hits a skate or it deflects off a stick — anything can happen. And sometimes it creates a scramble, so I think there’s just more intent to do that and getting guys to the net.”

An offseason cap crunch severely sapped the Bruins of high-end skill up front this season. But bigger bodies like James van Riemsdyk, Trent Frederic, Maroon, Justin Brazeau, and Charlie Coyle should be the right personnel to clean up rebounds and jam home a few greasy goals against Bobrovsky — so long as the pucks are actually sailing in against the Cats’ netminder.

“I think a little more traffic could be good,” Morgan Geekie added. “And they do a good job of trying to keep us outside of the dots and not allowing us to get to the net. But I think we can try to get to the hard areas of the ice and grow our game that way, gets more shots from the point, I think that would be good.”

Despite the discrepancy in shots on goal, the Panthers have not outright dominated the Bruins at 5-on-5 play. Over 180:52 of 5-on-5 reps in this series, Florida has only outscored Boston, 8-7, with the Bruins actually holding the edge in high-danger scoring chances, 34-31.

Special teams has been a different story, but the Bruins have generated some Grade-A looks against Bobrovsky at 5-on-5 play.

The scoring chances have been there at times for the Bruins. But the actual opportunities to put Bobrovsky under duress have been few and far between.

That needs to change if the Bruins have any hope of bringing this series back to Boston on Friday night.

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