In Game 2, Bruins had control issues
WILMINGTON - All year long, the Bruins have treated the puck like their firstborn.
They win battles for it in their zone. The forwards come back for outlet passes and the defensemen trigger the breakout with tape-to-tape deliveries. In turn, the forwards dump the puck in areas where they can retrieve it - in corners behind opposing defensemen - and start the cycle by using their speed, size, and skill.
Their season-long care for the puck made their carelessness in Game 2's 3-0 blanking Sunday night at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes that much more jarring.
"That's the biggest thing that we noticed today on the video," Mark Recchi said yesterday after an off-ice session at Ristuccia Arena. "When we did win battles - there probably weren't a lot of them - we were careless with the puck after.
"We would just throw pucks at the net. We weren't patient with it. We didn't hold onto it. That's a big key to our game. We're big and strong and fast. Guys hold onto the puck and make it really hard for other teams. We cycle the puck well. We use our defensemen well.
"We weren't doing that at all. We haven't done that very well in the first two games."
In Game 1 of this second-round series, Carolina treated the puck as if it were tainted. In the second period, the Hurricanes couldn't clear it out of their zone, which allowed Phil Kessel to put a shot on net. Goalie Cam Ward kicked out Kessel's attempt and Milan Lucic's follow-up bid, but couldn't recover to stop Marc Savard on the doorstep.
Later in the period, during a standard breakout, forward Tuomo Ruutu flung a backhand cross-ice pass in the neutral zone that was intercepted by Michael Ryder. With momentum going toward the Carolina net, Ryder and Blake Wheeler broke away for an odd-man rush that resulted in Ryder's fifth goal of the postseason.
"That was the thing after Game 1 that we were shaking our heads with our game," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. "We just hadn't done that in recent memory. That would be the most important thing."
During a video session after Game 1, one of the situations the Hurricanes studied - Maurice didn't want to show many - was the sequence before Boston's fourth goal. Lucic won a puck battle in center ice. As Lucic turned up ice, he was stripped by center Matt Cullen. An instant later, Savard picked Cullen's pocket to start the rush the other way, then scored Boston's final goal.
"It was almost comical," Maurice said. "On the fourth goal, we turned it over. They turned it back over. That wasn't good enough. We had to turn it over back again. It was easy to see where we needed to correct."
In Game 2, the Hurricanes were composed with the puck. The Bruins were not. The worst instance of Boston's puck mismanagement came on the power play in the second period (defenseman Joni Pitkanen was serving an elbowing infraction) when Zdeno Chara feathered a pass toward point partner Dennis Wideman. Penalty killer Chad LaRose read the play, stepped in front of Chara's pass, and went the other way for a shorthanded scoring chance.
After Chara and Wideman failed to rub out LaRose near the Boston net, Cullen took a feed and blasted a shot through Tim Thomas to give Carolina a 2-0 advantage.
"They made some good adjustments," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "They played us better in the neutral zone. It was a lot harder to get to the net. They blocked a lot of shots.
"But at the same time, I don't think we did a great job ourselves. I didn't find us very sharp in a lot of areas. Soft plays, poor decisions with the puck, turning it over. Those kinds of things took their toll."
While Chara's giveaway was the most glaring turnover, there were sprinkles of them throughout the game. Late in the second period, Patrice Bergeron put a pass into an empty spot, allowing Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to start the rush. Savard threw several of his trademark no-look off-the-boards passes that were picked off. Kessel tried a drop pass in the third that the Hurricanes swept away.
The Bruins have a defense and a netminder that can withstand turnovers. But when giveaways take place in open ice, Carolina, one of the fastest teams the Bruins have faced this season, can build up speed in the neutral zone and gain clean entries. Even defense-first clubs will have trouble fending off wave after wave of pressure if they don't manage the puck more effectively.
"In the first and second, we gave pucks away like we don't normally do," said Savard. "We were trying to carry it more instead of making those little chip plays. I think if we get back to doing the little things, we'll be fine."