BOSTON (CBS) — If ever there were a night where one would have a very difficult time selling the significance of analytics and advanced stats that preach the value of puck possession, Thursday night’s Game 1 would not be the time.
That is not to say that such statistics have no value, but on this night, a goaltender playing out of his mind made them irrelevant.
Carey Price stopped 48 shots from the Boston Bruins in Game 1, at times looking the only player in a white sweater aware that a playoff series against a hated rival had begun. From the opening whistle until the 84th minute, Price was peppered with shots — some from in tight, some from the point, and everywhere in between — and he was the difference in the Canadiens’ 4-3 double-overtime win at the TD Garden.
Admittedly, Price didn’t do it alone, as his teammates blocked 30 shots attempted by Bruins skaters. Yet it was a series of spectacular saves that prevented the Bruins from getting a win they probably deserved. They certainly put in the work.
For the Bruins, that’s a bit of a good news/bad news situation. On the one hand, you lost, and that stinks. On the other, you attempted 98 shots (51 on net, 30 attempts blocked, 17 missed the net) when the Canadiens attempted just 58 — or 59 percent of your offensive output. Your own goaltender, who is certainly capable of playing at an all-world level himself, had a bit of an off night, stopping just 29 of 33 shots.
Overall, if the play like that continues, the Bruins will be fine. But if Price can somehow tap into whatever it was that inspired him in Game 1, it surely won’t be easy.
Price was the main story, but let’s dive into all of the leftover thoughts from that long Game 1.
–Obviously, despite Price’s spectacular night, the Bruins not only beat him on three occasions but also had some chances where he lost the puck. The most obvious came late in the first overtime, when a slapper from the blue line got lost somewhere along the way and ended up sitting in the crease for a second. Reilly Smith tried to bury it, but Brendan Gallagher cleared it away.
It was right there.
There was a similar play late in regulation, when Torey Krug’s blast squeezed its way through Price and sat tantalizingly in the crease before being taken away to safety.
Dougie Hamilton hit a post on a power play in the second period, and Loui Eriksson rung one off the crossbar in the third. In OT, Johnny Boychuk sent a shot intentionally wide, and Carl Soderberg tried to bury it when it kicked toward the net. He missed by inches. There was also Milan Lucic’s masterful whiff on what was essentially a tap-in putt midway through the third period. You can watch it here if you have the stomach for it, but it’s not pretty.
The Bruins had their chances to make this a lopsided affair. They just didn’t capitalize.
–On the flip side, as has been mentioned, Price was ridiculous. Here’s a brief look through his greatest hits.
First, I was ready to see the Garden whip into a frenzy when Jarome Iginla cut the Montreal lead in half late in the second. Only … he didn’t. Price exploded from left to right to cover the net and turn aside Iginla on what looked to be an easy goal.
Then there was this one 10 minutes into the first overtime:
I still don’t know how that save was made. Price might not know either.
Then there was this, two minutes later, which was when you really had to start wondering if it just wasn’t the Bruins’ night.
Price was just unbelievable. It was one of those instances where you tip your cap and move on. There’s not much else to do.
–Down the other end of the ice, Tuukka Rask was OK. But OK was not nearly enough in this game, nor will it be if the Bruins are to sustain a long playoff run.
To Rask’s credit, he stood at his locker and placed all the blame squarely on himself. It was probably a bit over the top, but the message was clear: He knows he has to be better in order for the Bruins to win. Given how good he can be, and given how easily he can move on from losses like this one, he should remain low on the list of Bruins’ concerns.
–That’s also because he made saves like this one:
Rask bailed out Matt Bartkowski there, but he couldn’t do that after the defenseman was called for his second penalty of the night in double overtime, a moment captured perfectly in a still photograph:
–Michel Therrien is a man who owes a steak dinner or two to Mr. Price. The Canadiens, owners of a nice 2-0 lead after 40 minutes, took the ice in the third period with the mentality that two goals would be enough. The Habs played a 1-2-2 trap, essentially giving up any offense in favor of trying to simplify things defensively and prevent the Bruins from coming back.
How’d that work out?
The Bruins came back from that 2-0 hole and again came back from a 3-2 deficit, thanks in large part to that boneheaded philosophy. This is a team that scored more third-period goals than any other team this season, with the Bruins owning an NHL-best plus-48 goal differential in the third period. Taking the strategy of sitting back was essentially as bad a coaching decision a winning coach has ever gotten away with.
–It wasn’t just in shot attempts where the Bruins owned the Canadiens. The Bruins won 58 percent of the faceoffs, and 56 percent of the game’s faceoffs were dropped in the Montreal end of the ice, compared to just 14 percent in the Boston end. Hits, which are a terribly kept “stat” but will be listed here anyway because it bolsters my point, favored the Bruins 56-45.
The overarching point here is that it is difficult — truly difficult — to dominate a game the way the Bruins did and come out as losers.
The Bruins seemed to understand that, too.
“I didn’t mind the way our team played tonight,” Claude Julien said. “We had lots of chances. Sure, we fell behind 2-0, but we showed some resiliency and came back and I thought we carried play for the most part. … Probably the only thing is, we’ve got to find a way to bury those great opportunities that we had. That’s probably where there’s some regrets there, [not] burying those chances.”
“I thought we dominated the game,” Iginla said. “I thought even when they got the lead, you know we had chance after chance. [Pucks] were just a little tougher going in tonight – some nights that happens. Tip your hats, goalies were very good tonight. But at the same time we had chances and on other nights they go in. It sucks not winning that one, but we played well and I thought we controlled that game and [if] we play that way, we’ll get some good results.”
There’s certainly no panic in that room after that loss.
–As much truth as there is to that, there’s still the fact that there’s nothing to feel good about when you dominate a team but still lose. The Canadiens were better where it mattered most — finishing. The Bruins could control the tempo and then make one mistake — such as a too-hard Boychuk pass which Torey Krug coughed up in the neutral zone — and 3 seconds later, the puck is in the Boston net.
That’s an area where Boston needs to work on its dominance, because it’s the only one that really shows up in the history books.
–If we’re all on dive watch for this series, Dale Weise did a bad job (or a good job?) of kicking out his own legs after getting slashed in the hands by Bartkowski in the first period. Weise is known for his weaselry on that very same sheet of ice, where he once shook his gloves to show he was ready to fight Shawn Thornton, only to very quickly back as far away as possible. On this one, people were upset about the call after P.K. Subban scored the game’s first goal on the ensuing power play. Yet obvious dive aside, Bartkowski still committed a slash and earned a two-minute minor. Six to one, half-dozen to the other.
–Torey Krug is a playoff-scoring machine, and he proved it yet again by scoring the Bruins’ second goal. But was he waiting for his invitation to arrive in the mail before shooting this one on net?
–Alexei Emelin opted to not refer to Patrice Bergeron after this totally legal, totally awesome hipcheck.
It was a prime opportunity to go “full Lucic” on us, but alas, we didn’t get it.
–Whenever the Canadiens are in town for a big game, there always seems to be a “U-S-A” chant that breaks out at the Garden. Invariably, media types and some fans point out how dumb such a chant is, considering the Canadiens have employed more Americans than the Bruins in recent years, and how much of the Bruins’ roster (including the goaltender, the captain and the two alternate captains) comes from different areas of the world.
But I’m not ever going to criticize a “U-S-A” chant. USA rules. People should chant “U-S-A” all the time. If you’re reading this right now in a quiet office, and you stand up and start a “U-S-A” chant, then you’re automatically the man and you deserve respect, not criticism.
Go America. Rock, flag and eagle.
–I don’t know what the heck Johnny Boychuk was doing in his celebration after tying the game late in the third period, but I’m of the belief that when you score in such moments, you can basically do whatever you want.
–Say what you will about P.K. Subban — and Bruins fans certainly do — but the kid is cold as ice.
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