BOSTON (CBS) — I said after Game 2 that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the series return to Boston tied 2-2, and I would be equally as unsurprised to see either team leading 3-1 with a chance to close out the series on Saturday night.
I was prepared for just about anything, yet the events of Tuesday night still managed to be a bit startling.
The Bruins’ intense third-period effort stood in great contrast to their play from the first 40 minutes, and on this night, there was no miraculous comeback to speak of.
Now the Canadiens hold a 2-1 series lead, and Thursday night’s Game 4 now borders on must-win territory for the Bruins.
But before Game 4, let’s run through all of the leftover thoughts from the Canadiens’ 4-2 win in Game 3.
–Before the doom and gloom comes on, I’ll start on a cheery note. I don’t think the Bruins are cooked. Far from it. This is a team that put together a 12-game win streak in March and a team that ripped off four straight to eliminate the Red Wings in the first round. When they’re playing their game — dominating puck possession, imposing their physicality and getting outstanding goaltending from Tuukka Rask — they’re nearly unbeatable.
Right now, it’s worth wondering if the Bruins even have the road map to get back to that style of play. But they were the best team in the NHL this year for a reason, and provided they settle themselves, get back to what worked and better resemble their real identity, they can still be OK.
That’s about the only happy stamp you can put on a performance like Tuesday night’s. All right, now onto the negatives.
–I lied, here’s one more positive. For as much as there is room to criticize the Bruins for their poor effort in the first two periods (and I did plenty of that here), there is also credit to be given to Mr. Carey Price. The whole “Bruins claim they’ve solved Price” story line was — to borrow a word from Claude Julien and Michel Therrien — a bunch of crap, but it still opened the door to the possibility of Price getting inside his own head. Instead, he hit the ice in Game 3 and revived his super-cocky glove saves that he displayed throughout Game 1. It’s really a sight to behold — the man gloves down pucks in the playoffs like a dude just playing a casual game of catch in the backyard.
But beyond the glove saves, Price was sharp early on, and in particular he made a pair of toe saves late in the first period to prevent the Bruins from cutting the Montreal lead in half before heading to the dressing room. The first was on a quick release from Dan Paille in the slot (video here), and the second game 30 seconds later, when kicked aside a sneaky Johnny Boychuk slap shot from the right point:
To this point, it’s been stellar goaltending from Price and a continued team commitment to blocking shots that has made the difference in this tight series.
–I wrote during the Detroit series that the Bruins would be an average team without Tuukka Rask. I caught some heat for it. Let me clarify: The Bruins are an average team when Tuukka Rask isn’t playing at the exceptional level that he’s made routine. We’re seeing that play out right now. Rask was OK in Game 3, and OK was not enough for the Bruins.
It’s downright wrong to get on a goalie for allowing goals on breakaways. Yet it’s fair to wonder whether Rask had his head in the right place when P.K. Subban came streaking out of the box. Rask bit hard on the deke to the backhand, though I’d wager a guess that exactly zero of his 300 or so NHL goals have been scored via backhand. And then there was Dale Weise, he of just 13 career goals in nearly 200 games, making it look all too easy with a five-hole goal.
Again, you can’t crush Tuukka for not stopping every breakaway. But this Bruins team cannot win without Rask playing at a Conn Smythe level. An .884 save percentage in three games is simply not good enough. Fair or unfair, the Bruins need Rask to commit robbery once or twice every night to give them the chance they need.
–Obviously, something had to give with the Bruins’ power play after it found so much success in the first round. But the futility thus far in the second round has been startling. They’ve had 11 minutes of power-play time and have gotten just 11 shots on net during that time. Zero have gone in the net. The struggle was highlighted best toward the end of the only Boston power play of Game 3, when Loui Eriksson psyched himself out so badly that he checked himself into the end boards and turned the puck over. Lars Eller then picked up the loose puck in front of the net, carried to the neutral zone and hit a streaking Subban for the Canadiens’ second goal.
The Boston power play functioned at a 21.7 percent efficiency in the regular season and 37.5 percent in the first round of the playoffs. It’s now operating at zero percent in this series, and it essentially gave up a goal in Game 3. That’s a problem. A big one.
–It’s funny how the talk all day focused on Tim Peel and Chris Rooney, and how they were guaranteed to call a ton of penalties, with the majority of them expected to go against Boston. As it turned out, Peel and Rooney left their whistles in the referee’s locker room and let the two teams play. It literally took a wildly reckless elbow attempt and a two-hand to the face of the goaltender to draw a penalty in this game.
The baseline for roughhousing was established in the opening minute, when Subban took down Brad Marchand with a move that is typically called interference. Later in the first, David Desharnais used his leg to trip Marchand in the neutral zone, no call. Subban tackled Paille in front of the net six minutes into the second, and there was no call. Kevan Miller hauled down Brendan Gallagher in front of the Boston net about eight minutes into the third period, and again, no call. Rene Bourque used his free hand to grab Carl Soderberg on an attempted entry into the zone, disrupting the play and causing a turnover, and there was no call. Gregory Campbell went flying at Alexei Emelin on the end boards and rocked the D-man into the glass, but that too drew no penalty.
The Bruins may have gotten the slightly shorter end of the stick with regard to the lack of whistles, but a game like that is much more preferable than the ugly mess of officiating that we saw in Game 2.
–All of that sets up the big debate topic of whether the Bruins deserved a penalty shot in the final seconds, due to P.K. Subban dislodging the net. The rulebook states that if a player “deliberately” knocks the net off its moorings in the final minutes of a game, then a penalty shot should be awarded. For the NHL … yeesh.
For the Bruins, I don’t think it’s a reason to get worked up, because when you’re relying on the stripes that means you’re not playing winning hockey. But, again, yeesh.
At the same time, who would Claude have called upon to take a penalty shot with a chance to tie a playoff game in the final seconds in Montreal? And who would have actually come through with a goal?
If anyone was robbed, it was us, because that would have been the most exciting moment of the playoffs. But given how few penalties were being called in this game, I am not surprised that neither Rooney or Peel ruled that Subban “deliberately” knocked the net out of place.
–Claude Julien sending his fourth line onto the ice for the faceoff following the empty-net goal was bad form. Sure the fourth line plays all the time, but they were out there to start a little fracas, and they only halfheartedly did that anyway. It just wasn’t a good look.
–Developing story: Zdeno Chara is very, very tall.
Film at 11.
–Credit to Thomas Vanek for making a very smart play to set up the first Montreal goal, but man oh man, what was Kevan Miller doing?
As the puck moved up the wall to the right point, Miller got caught puck watching and ended up just drifting aimlessly toward the front of the net. He completely left Tomas Plekanec all alone on the left wing, which probably left Rask to assume there was no forward standing 12 feet to his right. Rask sold out to make a save on Vanek’s upcoming shot, thereby leaving the whole net open for Plekanec:
Jarome Iginla caught some criticism for looking like he was late or lazy in covering Plekanec, but Iginla was busy doing his job covering the left point. That one as all on Miller.
–Here’s a riddle with no answer: How many Bruins does it take to protect the front of the net?
—Twitter was a big old mess of opinions after P.K. Subban’s penalty. I thought a two-minute minor was fair for a reckless hit like that. If you don’t think it was reckless, ask Thomas Vanek for his opinion. It wasn’t a dirty hit — it just needs to be more controlled. The fact that three bodies went helicoptering near the boards proves it was reckless enough to warrant the roughing call.
The fact that three bodies were pinwheeling all over the place also resulted in one of the great hockey photos of all time:
–The first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla is obviously not performing up to its standard, and I think much of that blame can be placed on the wingers — not the centerman. Krejci has looked fine, but he’s catching most of the heat. Meanwhile, you could refer to Lucic and Iginla as Balky and Larry, because they look like two complete strangers who just met each other minutes before puck drop. The two are either banging into each other, getting in each other’s way or trailing too far behind to generate regular scoring chances. At one point, Krejci set up shop behind the net looking to make a pass. Lucic was nowhere to be found and Iginla stood in front of the net with his stick at shoulder height. Krejci had nowhere to go with it and the scoring threat ended quickly.
–To take that a step further, how many Bruins have really earned a check mark for playing at a satisfactory level thus far in the series? I’ll give a check mark to Patrice Bergeron, because he looked like the only Bruins forward to actually give a damn during the first 40 minutes. And Zdeno Chara gets a check mark, almost by default, because he’s so consistent. But is there anyone else? Seemingly the rest of the roster has had as many or more mistakes as positive contributions, from the goaltender through all four lines. Carl Soderberg mishandled three passes at the goalmouth in Game 3. Torey Krug made a great play to keep a puck in the Montreal zone but then fired a shot directly into Price’s chest. Brad Marchand did the same thing late in the second. Lucic and Iginla continue to pepper the end boards with shots. Dougie Hamilton vacated an entire half of the rink for no good reason to set up the Subban goal. Andrej Meszaros is Andrej Meszaros. Rask can’t pull rabbits out of his mask with enough regularity.
Add it all up, and it simply has not been good enough. That needs to change — fast — if the Bruins hope to avoid the prospect of fighting to stay alive on Saturday night at the Garden.
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