By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
We’ve been watching the combination of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for about five seasons now.
You know what? The three forwards of the Boston Bruins are still mighty good.
As usual, they led the way as the Bruins took care of business with a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at the KeyBank Center. Bergeron and Marchand had a goal and an assist each, while Bergeron added an assist. Collectively, they were a +9 for the night.
They have been good enough, and together long enough, to make it easy to wonder if they might be on to something.
Way back in the Original Six days, most of the lines on the teams were set from night to night. The top groups often had clever little nicknames, like “The Production Line” or “The Punch Line.” The concept began to fade as we went into the 1970s, though, for whatever reason. Perhaps the coaches needed to justify their work by changing line combinations at the first sign of a problem.
Yes, there have been some famous lines since then. We had one in Buffalo in “The French Connection,” with Gil Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert. There’d be no group statue of them out front of the building if they were broken up constantly. We had the “Triple Crown Line” of the Kings centered by Marcel Dionne, and the “Legion of Doom” trio of the Flyers with Eric Lindros.
Luckily for headline writers everywhere, Boston’s threesome has picked up the name of the “Perfection Line.” They have a great mix of skill, desire and grit that are a handful to play against, night after night. As you might expect, even Sabres coach Don Granato came away impressed … again.
“The Bergeron line is exceptional,” he said. “Their reputation is what is for a great reason. They don’t make mistakes. They play an efficient game. They play 20 shifts per game and they wait for the four or five shifts when they see the opportunity, and they are ready to pounce on it. What do you say?”
And now with Taylor Hall popping up on the Bruins’ second line with center David Krejci and winger Craig Smith, opposing defenses have even more to worry about. No wonder they have won six in a row. Jeff Skinner of the Sabres says it’s not easy to play against either one of the lines.
“You just have to communicate as a five-man unit,” he said. “You have to do the normal things. They have skill and they will create chances. You have to limit them, and clean up any second chances they might have. They create a lot of offense five on five. You have to be aware when they are on their ice as a five-man unit.”
Yes, it’s tough to find a combination that works so well together, and sometimes it’s not a good idea to put all of your eggs in one basket. Still, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have developed a wonderful chemistry in their time together. You’d think more teams might think about trying to copy that technique.
The Sabres, meanwhile, had other problems besides the guys wearing 37, 63 and 88 for the other team. Most of them were associated with the power play.
Marchand scored the only goal of the first period, but Arttu Ruotsalainen got that one back early in the second by tipping a pass from Anders Bjork even though the puck was above the ice rather than on it. Then came a demoralizing part of the game from the Buffalo standpoint. Boston took four minor penalties during the rest of the second period. In other words, the Bruins were shorthanded for half of the remainder of the stanza. The Sabres couldn’t score during any of them, and that was a bit deflating.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” Casey Mittelstadt said. “If we score on the power play, it’s a different game. We have to do a better job of helping each other when we run into trouble.”
“It’s not good enough,” Skinner said. “We had opportunities. We had six (power plays in the) last game (without a goal). Every power play is different. Sometimes it’s overpassing. Sometimes you just have to execute. We just need to be better. We’ve done a decent job of getting into the zone. They’re going to make it hard for you. Those are the moments when you can create momentum and turn the tide. We’re not doing that.”
This is not a new issue for the Sabres. Jack Eichel hasn’t played since March 7. Buffalo has five power plays in those 24 games, and never has tallied two in the same game. The team is 2 for its last 27 with the extra man, and 4 for its last 37.
Meanwhile, Matt Grzelcyk’s second-period shot from the right point seem to touch a stick and knuckle just enough to get by goalie Dustin Tokarski – one the goalie would like to get back. From there, the Bruins turned it into a rout by scoring three unanswered goals in the third period. The Sabres hadn’t lost a game by four goals since a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh on March 25.
Boston needed to do well in this extra-long trip to Buffalo in order to be more comfortable in the playoff situation. The Bruins are only four points back of Washington in the division with two games in hand, and they have moved eight points ahead of the fifth-place Rangers with two games in hand. Another win on Friday might mean Boston can spend more time looking up in the standings than looking down.
We’ll see if the Bruins can finish a rare three-game sweep of the Sabres at that time. The Perfection Line, no doubt, wants nothing less than a Perfect Road Trip.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)