BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins are kind of jerks.
Rather than play the game they’re capable of playing, and rather than imposing their size, strength and skill on their opponent right out of the gate, they seem content to take a laissez-faire approach and then spring into action in the final 10 minutes to save the day.
It’s exciting as can be; it’s just not very polite to fans who may not enjoy feeling heart palpitations on a sunny spring Saturday.
Of course, a lot happened in that game to lead to that exciting finish, so before all eyes turn to the Bell Centre for Game 3, let’s take one last run through all of the leftover thoughts from the Bruins’ thrilling 5-3 win in Game 2.
–I have two notes on P.K. Subban. First, the good — the very good, in fact. Subban drew the largest media crowd in the Montreal dressing room, and just minutes after losing a heated playoff game, he showed great poise and maturity in addressing the racist tweets made by idiots after Game 1. I recommend reading his entire quote, if you haven’t already. It would have been an impressive showing for anyone, but it was even more so considering he’s still a week away from his 25th birthday. He’s clearly a young man who has his head on straight and has tremendous character.
–Now to the bad, and it has to do with Mr. Subban’s on-ice character. In the opening seconds of the third period, Shawn Thornton lined up Subban for a standard body check. Subban saw Thornton coming and, after dumping the puck into the Boston zone, hit the deck in one swift movement. The move caused Thornton to dangerously get his legs tangled up in Subban’s while falling facefirst into the boards.
I’ve seen and heard people say that Subban did nothing wrong, that if he doesn’t want to get hit right there, he doesn’t have to.
These people are wrong.
The sport of hockey allows for adult males to hit each other. It’s written into the rules. They even keep a stat for hits (they keep it poorly, but they do keep it). There are certain scenarios on the ice where as a player, you must understand that you are vulnerable to getting hit if you want to make a play. In this case, winding up at center ice to get the puck deep into the Boston zone meant that Subban needed to absorb body contact. You see it all the time — guys pay the price for doing what is necessary to make a play for their team. By falling to the ice, avoiding the hit and essentially pulling the rug out from under Thornton, Subban created a dangerous situation for a skater who was playing within the rules.
It was a punk move.
Subban played dumb with the media after the game, telling them, “I sort of lost my footing there.” But Thornton said that Subban apologized to him later in the game, so we know that excuse was a pile of bull dung.
I understand Subban wouldn’t want to get hit by Thornton, who has sent him flying in the past. But that’s the price of playing playoff hockey sometimes, and if Subban can’t take it, he shouldn’t be out there.
(Lest anyone pull the homer card here, note that I said the same thing about Brad Marchand after his cheap move on Sami Salo two years ago. A bogus move is a bogus move, plain and simple.)
–Let’s give full credit to the referees for making this entire game feel like an NBA game. If we’re being honest, we all show up and tune in to see the referees get their fingerprints all over these games. Who wants to see the best players in the world dictate how a game goes when we can see some jabronis in striped shirts put themselves on TV every three minutes?
There certainly should be no argument that the calls that went against the Bruins were bad calls. They were legit. Yet the physicality and obstruction that took place in that game was even on both sides, and there’s no way the Canadiens should have gotten twice as many power plays as the Bruins. The refs let Rene Bourque’s tackle of Kevan Miller in the opening minute slide, which seemed to set a tone that such activity would be allowed, only for it to be a penalty later. As a player, it likely felt that both everything and nothing was a penalty at the same time, and that’s why the Bruins struggled to stay out of the penalty box.
–The Bruins also got into penalty trouble because the referees — the same referees who seemed intent on taking over the game — were too sensitive to handle some swear words from a head coach. If you’re going to have that much influence on a game, you better be able to handle some curse words. This isn’t kindergarten.
The penalty literally went into the books as “BOS TEAM Abusive language – bench(2 min).” That penalty came in a one-goal game in the playoffs. Unless a coach threatens to murder a referee and then lays out the plan in extreme detail, he should not be given a penalty in the playoffs. I don’t know when Joey Crawford learned how to skate, but hopefully he doesn’t show up to officiate any more important games.
–And why did Zdeno Chara and Subban get matching minors at the end of the first? Subban tapped Chara in the chest. Chara snapped his neck back, almost showing his hand that he was going to flop to draw a penalty. The problem was he didn’t complete the flop because he realized he had barely been touched. Yet they both went to the penalty box for two minutes, because the referees surmised that neither player conducted himself in a manner befitting a true sportsman. OK then. We’re just making up rules as we go along, I guess.
–The other questionable move from the Canadiens, aside from Subban’s, came from Alexei Emelin. And this one was just plain dirty. David Krejci made a diving attempt to bat in a rebound in the third period, but Carey Price covered up the puck. Emelin saw Krejci sliding prone on the ice and decided to plop on top of the forward, using his elbow to drive Krejci’s head into the ice. It was a dirty, dirty play, and yet the officials somehow didn’t see it. They must have been too busy making sure Claude Julien wasn’t using any more naughty words.
–I’m not privy to the words spoken on the ice, but I imagine Milan Lucic was telling Emelin he’s a chicken right here:
(It’s been a month and I still can’t believe Lucic publicly called Emelin a chicken. A chicken! Chicken! Can Lucic and Brad Marchand break out this dance next game?)
–Plus-minus is not a great “statistic.” Everyone knows this. Still, when Chara shows up as a plus-5 after a 5-3 playoff win, it stands out. Silly/sometimes misleading stat or not, that’s pretty cool. (Though Shayne Gostisbehere probably isn’t impressed.)
–Andrej Meszaros was not outstanding, but he was solid. He had an extra jump in his step and seemed to put in an extra effort to make an impact, rather than just being content with not making mistakes. After Matt Bartkowski’s two-penalty performance in Game 1, I’d expect Meszaros to stay in there for at least the next two games in Montreal, where every mistake is going to be magnified.
–In my opinion, the biggest reason the Canadiens have found success throughout this series has been their team commitment to blocking shots. They’re clearly making a concerted effort to get in the way of every shot possible. They blocked 30 shots in Game 1, and they blocked 13 shots through two periods in Game 2. However, they only blocked four shots in the third period, and the Bruins not coincidentally scored four goals.
It’s been clear that the Bruins have really dominated puck possession in the seven-plus periods of hockey thus far, but the combination of stellar goaltending from Carey Price and a dedication to blocking shots has helped the Habs prevent the ice from tilting too far against them.
–On the shot blocking note … Josh Gorges may be clinically insane. Zdeno Chara dangled his way out of the Boston zone and carried through the neutral zone early in the second period. Upon crossing the Montreal blue line, he put all of his 6-foot-9 frame into a full windup for a slap shot. Gorges went down to one knee and stayed right in front of that slapper. I believe I let out an audible “Oh, dear God” up on Level 9.
–I said this before the game: “For Boston, it has to be altogether frightening that Thomas Vanek is getting a motivational kick in the butt from his coach.” And what did Mr. Bruins Killer do? Just your standard Vanek vs. Boston performance — two goals, both on the power play, one showing great smarts and the other displaying phenomenal hand-eye coordination. That second one, which gave the Canadiens a 3-1 lead in the third period, appeared to be a dagger, too. The Bruins obviously recovered, but if Vanek is tapping into his normal Bruins-killing ways, that may be a mighty big problem for Boston.
–Another mighty big problem for Boston, for whatever reason, has been a failure to account for Mr. Subban on the power play. Subban, who’s as dangerous as they come on the blue line during a power play, has had room to essentially set up a lounge chair and sip Arnold Palmers out of a straw before doing whatever it is he wants to do with the puck. He assisted on both Vanek goals — the first a hard pass intended to be redirected, the second a blast that was tipped on its way toward net — and now has four points in two games. He’s had a hand in four of the Candiens’ seven goals in the series, and all four of those points have come in the power play.
I don’t know, I’m not an NHL coach, but my humble suggestion for the Bruins would be to pay a little attention to No. 76 on the power play. He’s rather talented.
–There hasn’t been any reason to complain about Dougie Hamilton’s game this postseason, as he’s really stepped up to contribute in a big way. But during the regular season when he was being criticized, the two sticking points were always his turnovers in the Boston end and his lack of physicality.
He may have had his most physical moment yet on Saturday, when he sent two bodies down to the ice after a Tuukka Rask save.
Granted, Brian Gionta comes up to Hamilton’s belly button, and Rene Bourque was already knocked off-balance. But that’s the type of aggression Hamilton hasn’t always shown. I think he’s steadily increased it as the year has gone on.
–If there’s been a running theme in the NHL playoffs for the past three or four seasons, it’s been that nobody has any idea what goaltender interference is. I don’t know, you don’t know, and the referees absolutely don’t know. The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had scored a go-ahead goal in Montreal in Game 3, but it turns out the NHL rulebook allows for goaltenders to dive into players to draw interference and take goals off the board.
So I’ll admit that I don’t know what constitutes interference with a goaltender anymore — but if Price diving into Alex Killorn and then flopping to the ice before having enough time to regain his footing is enough to take a goal off the board, then maybe Brandon Prust’s grabbing of Tuukka Rask’s leg should have been enough to take Mike Weaver’s goal off the board in Game 2?
I honestly don’t know. Seems like a case could be made, though, considering Weaver scored about one second after Prust let go of the leg.
–From a lineup standpoint, Claude Julien putting Daniel Paille on the third line was smart. Justin Florek has been OK, but asking him to be an impact player in a series like this would be too much. Granted, Claude doesn’t really ask his fourth line to play at all when it gets dismantled from being 20-11-22, and that was evidenced by Thornton’s 3:42 time on ice, and Jordan Caron’s 4:52. Taking away fourth-line minutes forces the other three forward lines to play a bit more, which could come back to bite them in any overtime or double-overtime situations.
But Carl Soderberg continues to play so well, Julien had to get him a winger who could score and do more than a kid with only a handful of NHL games under his belt. Paille answered the bell with the first goal of the game.
–I won’t pretend to know how the rest of this series will play out. I just know that when these two teams return to Boston on Saturday, I would be equally as unsurprised to see them tied 2-2 as I would be to see either team leading 3-1, looking to close out the series with a Game 5 win. Boston looks to be the better team in terms of puck possession, but the Canadiens’ tireless effort in their own zone has really evened things out. And so long as Montreal keeps these games tight, a few bounces either way and a little bit of luck are likely to make this a long series.
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