By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It was great to see the Bruins on the ice for practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday.
It was the first time the Bruins practiced the day after a game since the start of their Eastern Conference first round series against Ottawa, which the Senators lead 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Wednesday at TD Garden.
And it showed that despite the comeback from three goals down that forced overtime in Game 3 on Monday, the Bruins understood that they had a lot of work to do regardless of how tired they were after losing consecutive overtime games over three days.
“I think just a matter of today’s a new day, get out and get a sweat and might switch it up tomorrow, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow morning as far as what our schedule is,” Bruins forward Drew Stafford said. “We haven’t been practicing, we’ve been kind of easing up and we thought we’d switch it up, get a little bit of a sweat, a little bit of a tune-up on some systems stuff, nothing too crazy.”
Any change in routine that helps the Bruins get off to a better start in Game 4 will be welcome. Switching up their plans might also help the Bruins play more like themselves and to be in a mode similar to the regular season, when they would normally practice when they had one day off between games.
There are three things the Bruins really need to do if they’re going to even this series, and all three were subject of conversation on Tuesday. First and foremost they have to better contain Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has exploited little breakdowns by Boston to make big plays. The Bruins may not have to do anything special, just get back to their structure in terms of positional play, and be smarter and harder on the forecheck.
“Chasing the puck out of his hands, good angles, good stick-to-puck, be physical when you can, which is easier said than done with any good player, so that’s the strategy for a lot of guys,” coach Bruce Cassidy explained about how to slow Karlsson’s playmaking parade. “It’s just not that easy at times. But knowing where is on the ice, pushing him to the outside, taking good angles, I think we’re capable of that.”
It would help the Bruins to play with possession of the puck more, and as always that starts in the faceoff circles. The Bruins were third in the regular season with a 53.2 success rate, while Ottawa was 10th at 51 percent. After the Bruins played the Senators even at the dots in Game 1, the Senators have owned the past two games and are winning 53 percent of the draws. Even Patrice Bergeron (if we’re allowed to mention it) is at just 49.3 percent after losing 16 of 29 draws in Game 3. This doesn’t just fall on Boston’s centers, because sometimes wingers winning battles make the difference, and Cassidy even noted that faceoff stats usually tell you how hard your team is working.
And then there’s the Bruins’ discipline. It’s difficult to blame Bruins forward Riley Nash for taking a pot shot at Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan in overtime Monday after Ryan hit Nash up high along the boards, and after Game 3 featured Marc Methot putting on a face-jab exhibition seemingly after every whistle. Nonetheless, it was overtime in a playoff game and by giving the referees a chance to make a call, Nash put the Bruins in a terrible position. He wasn’t alone, of course, as Brad Marchand (no surprise) and David Backes also took boneheaded penalties (and Marchand and Backes are supposed to be the experienced leaders on this inexperienced Bruins team).
Whether the Senators cash in on their power plays or not — and so far they’re 3-for-10 — killing penalties is taxing, it’s momentum-shifting and can also render the home-ice advantage useless. The Bruins have to stay out of the box in Game 4, and they know it.
“That’s part of being an antagonist a little bit,” Cassidy said. “It’s part of the individual responsibility to have as much discipline as possible. But in a violent game, it happens. We’re going to keep preaching to be aware of it. But how it will affect us going forward, I guess we’ll see [Wednesday].”
We’ll see Wednesday if the Bruins have learned their lessons and made the adjustments that make a difference in a best-of-7 or if they’ll be pushed to the brink of elimination.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.