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Bruins

Kalman: Time For Bruins’ Defense To Get Head Into Game

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
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Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller and Canadiens forward Brian Gionta battle in front of Tuukka Rask during Game 3 of their playoff series. (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller and Canadiens forward Brian Gionta battle in front of Tuukka Rask during Game 3 of their playoff series. (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

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MONTREAL (CBS) – Now this is what you call adversity.

The Bruins are down 2-1 in their Eastern Conference second round series with the Montreal Canadiens after what I’d call an embarrassing loss in Game 3 on Tuesday.

The score was only 4-2, but the Bruins had to dig out of a 3-0 hole, which is unacceptable in the postseason, especially when they trailed by two goals in both of the prior games. Worse, they didn’t seem into the flow of the game for more than 10, 15 minutes of the 60. They were constantly the reactors and not the doers. They gave up a couple breakaway goals and one goal on a breakdown in their own end. Their one power play did nothing but kill two minutes off the clock.

There was plenty of blame to go around after the loss, and there are plenty of things to fix entering Game 4 on Thursday on the same hostile ice. But the one thing that might not be fixable at this point in the season is the Bruins’ play on their back end. In fact, maybe the only thing that could solve their problem is the return of a healthy Dennis Seidenberg. But at this rate it’s not likely the Bruins will play long enough for him to get back in there.

This problem is no longer about the “young D,” especially since rookie Torey Krug has by far been their best defenseman for several games. Not only has Krug continued to be an offensive threat, his defending has improved by leaps and bounds in the postseason, like Andrew Ference only a decade younger.

Krug, like his less-experienced teammates, can be considered “young D” in name only by now. Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton are all in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time and have a full NHL season under their belts. Kevan Miller is making his first trek into the playoffs in the NHL, but he has nearly a full year of NHL experience now.

So when Hamilton fails to pick up Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban coming out of the penalty box and Subban scores on a breakaway, it’s not a young player learning anymore. It’s an inexcusable mistake by a veteran that was just part of the debacle. Miller and goaltender Tuukka Rask failed to make an easy exchange of the puck near the net that they’ve practiced thousands of times. These things happen, they just don’t usually happen all in the same game and with the stakes so high.

Beyond the “younger D” there are the veterans. And they deserve even more of the blame for the Bruins’ errors and turnovers. Zdeno Chara might’ve been plus-5 the other night in Game 2, but we all know how misleading that archaic stat is. He gave up the puck during one penalty kill that resulted in a Montreal goal. He wasn’t smart with the puck at the blue lines in Game 3.

Although Andrej Meszaros should get the majority of the blame for Dale Weise’s breakaway goal after Meszaros had his shot blocked and stood there admiring it, Johnny Boychuk might’ve made a better read and not let Weise go off to the races. Boychuk’s play has been the most disturbing of all. After Chara, he’s the most seasoned veteran. Yet his mistakes on breakouts have been prolific in this series, and although he keeps hammering the puck as hard as he can, the Canadiens have shown they’re not afraid to get in the way of anything. They blocked 29 more shots, half from Bruins defensemen. Boychuk has his shot blocked six times. Boychuk’s attempts to make the Canadiens pay for their strategy is admirable, but at this point he’s just banging his head against the wall. He needs to do something different. Just as important, he needs to defend better and start making better decisions.

The Bruins survived without Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid for several months of the regular season plus the five-game first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings. But now they’re playing a high-end skill team that’s super confident and still has the home-ice advantage it stole. The Bartkowski-Meszaros lineup decision is obviously a flip of the coin right now. But that decision shouldn’t matter that much. If the rest of the Bruins’ defense corps played smarter and up to their capabilities, they would be able to do now what they did with these same six, seven defensemen in the regular season.

Sure, the forwards deserve some blame. But they’d do better if the defense could get them the puck. Rask been outplayed by his counterpart Carey Price. But his play would improve if the Bruins weren’t giving up breakaways every time you look.

The Bruins are a team built from the defense out, so it’s time for that group to get its collective head into the game at a playoff level.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

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