WILMINGTON - Yesterday, when discussing his tinkering of the No. 1 power-play unit for Thursday's Game 5 victory, Bruins coach Claude Julien concluded his answer with the following sentence:
"Doing nothing was not the right thing to do."
Julien, facing the end of the season prior to Game 5, had seen his team play three straight competitive games, only to lose two by a goal apiece. He needed offense. He had to continue shutting down Montreal's top line of Andrei Kostitsyn, Tomas Plekanec, and Alex Kovalev. Because of a knee injury to Aaron Ward, he had to adjust his defensive corps.
Most important, Julien had to win Game 5 before he could think of addressing tonight's Game 6 and possibly a seventh game Monday back at the Bell Centre. Here are some of the maneuvers the first-year Boston coach pulled off, helping his team to a 5-1 win:
Counting on Kessel - With only five goals in the first four games, the Bruins needed a trigger-puller Thursday, leading to Phil Kessel making his return after being scratched the last three games. Julien scratched Jeremy Reich, the fourth-line winger and penalty killer, and put Kessel on the second line alongside Milan Lucic and Marc Savard.
But Julien made sure he put Kessel in the right situations. For several key faceoffs in the neutral and defensive zones, Julien replaced Kessel with Petteri Nokelainen, a more responsible two-way player. In the second period, when Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik was nabbed for holding, Kessel was set up at his preferred space along the left boards, and the rookie didn't hesitate to snap a rebound of his shot between Carey Price's pads for the tying goal.
While some players might have been lost after a three-game benching, Kessel didn't dwell on the disappointment, instead using it as motivation.
"I think it's pretty obvious that we saw Phil Kessel determined to get back in the lineup and make a difference," Julien said. "I think everybody who's seen him play this year would say that was one of his best games. He was strong on the boards, strong on the puck, all those things that we've been working with him to get better at. He's shown us that he's capable of doing it. It couldn't happen at a better time than [Thursday] night. Was I pleased with his game? Absolutely. Do we need more of that? We certainly do."
Back to the old - Entering Thursday night, the Bruins had scored only once on 17 power-play opportunities, putting a total of 26 shots on goal. They were relatively satisfied with their entries into the Montreal zone, but they were misfiring, thudding too many pucks into the bodies of the shot-blocking penalty killers.
So Julien reunited his top power-play unit from the regular season, putting Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman at the points, Savard along the right wall, Glen Murray in the slot, and Marco Sturm along the goal line to the right. For his second unit, Julien sent out an all-kid forward line of Kessel, Lucic, and David Krejci, with Andrew Ference and Shane Hnidy on the blue line.
In the second period, Kessel netted his strike on the power play. In the third, Chara one-timed a shot from the right point that sailed over Price's glove to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
"Everybody knows it wasn't working well," said Julien. "They seemed nervous and they weren't executing well. Sometimes going back to the old way puts everybody in a more comfortable situation. We tried it. It could have gone either way. It could have backfired."
Hnidy's night - Ward, dinged by a knee injury late in Game 4, was close to returning for Game 5, but was held out of the lineup. For Games 2, 3, and 4, Ward was paired with Chara as Boston's top shutdown duo deployed against Montreal's No. 1 line.
Instead of pairing Chara and Wideman, a misfiring combination in Game 1, Julien put Hnidy with his captain, informing Hnidy of the move prior to the opening faceoff. Hnidy, acquired from Anaheim Jan. 2 for Brandon Bochenski, played like a third-pairing defenseman most of the regular season. But during the stretch run, when the Bruins qualified for the playoffs, Hnidy emerged as a steady, defense-first defenseman who could draw upon his previous postseason experience with Atlanta and Ottawa.
In Game 1, Hnidy scored Boston's only goal. In Game 3, the fiery Hnidy squared off with forward Guillaume Latendresse in the series's only fight. Julien liked what he saw and tabbed Hnidy as Chara's partner, sending them out against Plekanec's threesome.
"Just because he's played that well," explained Julien of pairing Hnidy with Chara. "He's been solid for us all year and in the playoffs. We really liked his game. He moved the puck well, was steady, and was a good physical presence. We felt he was the best guy to put in that spot with Aaron Ward out. I don't think he disappointed."
Hnidy skated 25 shifts for 18:54 of ice time in Game 5, recording one shot, two hits, and three blocked shots.
"It's exciting. It's fun," Hnidy said. "As hockey players, we're all competitive by nature. You want to go out and be focused, but also have some fun with it and play your game."
Before Game 5, Julien didn't like thinking about the need to win three straight, acknowledging it was scary to consider. Now, however, the Bruins only need to win two more.
"We know that we're in for a big battle [tonight]," Julien said. "They're a team coming in that doesn't want a Game 7. We've got a team here that wants to create a Game 7. [Tonight] we can make that happen."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.