BOSTON — A revelation through the first four games of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Buffalo, the line of Vladimir Sobotka centering Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder were instrumental in Boston laying a big, fat egg in Buffalo last Friday night.
The three players all posted a minus-3 rating and failed to record a point in Game 5. Prior to that contest, the three forwards had combined for seven points and a plus-3 rating while Boston built its 3-1 series lead.
“We had a tough game,” admitted Sobotka after the morning skate at TD Garden in preparation for tonight’s Game 6 with the Bruins still up 3-2 in the series. “We had some unlucky plays and we just have to forget that game and be ready for the next.”
“It wasn’t that different,” he continued. “We just didn’t battle like we did before. And we’ve talked about it and we have to bring it tonight.”
The action of “bringing it” could be as easy as just making better decisions with the puck and getting it deep to keep the Sabres off the attack. The Sobotka line is at its best when Buffalo is below its own hash marks with the puck and Sobotka is able to forecheck and establish a physical presence.
“Naturally, being the center, he’s kind of in the middle and driving the net and he’s sort of the one dictating the zone, so naturally he’s going to be the first guy in there most of the time,” Wheeler said. “I think Rides and I have done a great job of supporting him. He always seems to take at least one guy out with him. So you seem to have a loose puck there with one defenseman to hopefully win the battle, and I think Rides and I have done a tremendous job of that. I think that’s where we’ve been playing our best, when we have it in the zone and we’re winning battles and Vladi obviously dictates that.”
Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Sobotka line didn’t do much of what makes it thrive in the Game 5 loss.
“When you’re playing in the defensive zone a lot, it’s tough to get a whole lot going,” noted Wheeler. “The best way to counteract that is just be smart with the puck and get it into areas where you think you can get it back and work your tail off. That’s the best way to go about it.”
Of course, the return of Marc Savard to active duty could juggle the Bruins’ lines. But if Wheeler-Sobotka-Ryder stick together, they’ll have to make Game 5 a distant memory and find the physical form that made them a contender for the title of Boston’s best line in the first four games.