The Boston Bruins might be down 2-1 to the Montreal Canadiens in their Atlantic Division final, but coach Claude Julien rightly pointed out Wednesday that “it’s not the end of the world.”
No, it's not, but it’s a short cab ride as Game 4 comes up Thursday night.
How did the Bruins, the Eastern Conference's regular-season champs, find themselves facing the predicament of falling down 3-1 in the series? What must change?
Here are the top trends in this series and why they’ve been good news for Montreal and bad news for Boston:
1. “P.K., P.K., P.K.!”
Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban has taken over this series at both ends of the ice. He’s registered six points in three games and has become the dominating personality. The Bruins need to find a way to limit his effectiveness, which seems to have elevated with his minutes (he played 27:50 seconds in Game 3, tops on both teams). Usually that starts with throwing the puck in his corner and wearing him down. Problem is, Subban is so mobile and thinks quick on his feet. Boston banger Shawn Thornton paid Subban quite a compliment Wednesday, comparing his elusiveness to that of Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Niedermayer. “You want to get in on him quicker, but he’s playing a great series, unbelievable, he’s like Scott Niedermayer, so it’s easier said than done,” Thornton said.
2. The Big Bang Theory
You know how this was supposed to go. The big Bruins would try and hammer the Habs. You know what? The Habs have turned the tables. Boston out hit Montreal, 56-45, in Game 1, 34-31 in Game 2 and were out hit by the Habs, 36-31, in Game 3. The most recent tilt included Subban’s run at Boston winger Reilly Smith and Montreal’s Travis Moen hitting Bruin Jarome Iginla so hard his helmet flew into the Montreal bench. “The story line is they are smaller and faster and we’re bigger and slower. I don’t particularly agree with that,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said when asked why the Habs are giving the Bruins trouble. “(Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin) has done a good job there, they’ve muscled up with some of their guys on the lower lines. They’re not as fast as they used to be but there’s a heavier component to their games.” The Bruins need to be true to their personality and take back the physical edge.
While the Canadiens top players -- Subban and goaltender Carey Price -- have performed as such, a number of the Bruins main guys have failed to deliver. Centre David Krejci, who’s led the playoffs in scoring two of the last three years, has one assist in the series. He’s 24-30 in the faceoff circle. After firing five shots in Game 1, Krejci had two in the last two games. Linemates Iginla and Milan Lucic aren’t much better. Iginla scored in Game 3 and Lucic has but an empty netter in Game 2 and an assist. Defenceman Zdeno Chara, who is rumoured to have a wrist injury, has only five shots and 10 hits in this series. The Canadiens top line hasn’t been setting the world on fire, either, but the Habs have got some scoring depth in these playoffs (Rene Bourque, Dale Weise and Mike Weaver have scored against Boston) and Subban is averaging a goal per game. It’s not impossible the Bruins could win without more from their top line, but they probably don’t want to find out.
4. The Task For Rask
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is second in a two-horse race so far this series. Rask’s struggles against the Habs continue as his career mark against the Canadiens (regular season and playoffs) has dropped to 4-12-3. His save percentage in this series is .884 (Montreal goalie Carey Price is at .920 and has made a number of big saves at important points in the games). Rask did get beaten on a pair of breakaways in Game 3, so that is as much on the team. “He’s one of the top two or three goalies in the world. He knows where his game is,” Chiarelli said when asked what he thought about Rask’s game in this series. “I’m not going to comment on his game. I think he’s one of the top two goalies in the world. I would expect him to play well. He’s one of many who has to play better.”
5. Mike’s Right
It seems like every move Canadiens coach Michel Therrien makes is paying off for the Habs right now. He inserted defenceman Douglas Murray and winger Travis Moen into the lineup for Game 3. The lumbering Murray wound up a plus player in his 12-plus minutes, had five hits and four blocked shots. Moen helped kill the lone Bruins power play, laid out Iginla with that huge hit, and played in the crucial final minute. The hit on Iginla was an exclamation point. “I think both teams are physical. Obviously, the Bruins are known for that, but I feel like we’ve got some guys who can use their speed to get in on the forecheck and bang bodies, too,” Moen said. Therrien moved winger Thomas Vanek off the Habs top line to play with Michael Bournival and Tomas Plekanec. It paid off, with Vanek setting Plekanec up for the big first goal of the game.