Ice chopped up but win smooths things over
MONTREAL — With the comfort factor of having their biggest defenseman, Zdeno Chara, back in the lineup, the Bruins finally dipped a big toe into the playoffs last night, not so much by what they created but by what they survived.
Are they really back in it? Can they truly make a play for their first Stanley Cup since 1972? Those answers and more remain to be seen, and they’ll find out for sure here Thursday night in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series with the Habs. For all they did right last night, most importantly getting an early 3-0 lead on the way to a 4-2 win over the Canadiens and not constantly committing costly turnovers for gimme goals, they still displayed the kind of rough edges that all too often lead to playoff disaster.
■ It took them a mere 68 seconds to hand the Habs a power play, and they did it in near maniacal fashion, getting charged with too many men on the ice. On a night when Habs icon Jean Beliveau handed over a blazing torch for a brief, though poignant, opening ceremony, it felt like the ghosts of the old Forum again were delighting in spooking those Spoked-B sweaters.
For the night, they handed the Habs five power plays in their own building, which typically isn’t the way to win in this city. If not for airtight penalty killing — the antithesis of Boston’s do-nothing power play, which has yet to score — today’s headline would read something like “Habs Power to Win’’.
■ Tim Thomas, shakier than a Clark Rockefeller alibi in the first two games of the series, needed until the third period before finally playing up to his Vezina-like ways. But by then, his once-again wobbly work in net had yielded soft goals to Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec, leaving the Habs with 15:52 worth of regulation to work some of their black magic.
“Those weren’t pretty goals,’’ noted Thomas, who gave up five in the first two games, each set up by blatant turnovers from teammates. “But, hey, it’s hockey.’’
“No doubt he’d like to have those two back,’’ added coach Claude Julien, noting that he was pleased how Thomas later “redeemed himself,’’ standing strong under a Habs onslaught over the final half of the third period.
■ Perhaps most concerning of all, they lost their focus. How else to explain a third period in which the Habs rolled up a 15-6 shot lead, buzzing around in the Boston end much like their Flying Frenchmen forefathers. Had Thomas not finally gathered his game, making some excellent stops over the final 5-7 minutes, shellshocked Bruins fans today would be talking again about the indignity of seeing another 3-0 lead gone bad.
“We won,’’ noted Rich Peverley, who walked into an easy goal, a gift giveaway by Habs goalie Carey Price, to bump the lead to 3-0 early in the second period. “But they had those three power plays in the first 10-15 minutes [12:12 to be precise]. I guess we played a decent game and now we have to move on.’’
“We have to keep working on our game,’’ added Julien, who’ll have his club in Lake Placid, N.Y., today and tomorrow, two more days to figure out if there is something to figure out about the dysfunctional power play.
Out of it all, though, the Bruins finally found a building block in twinning Chara, back in uniform after missing Game 2 because of a virus that led to dehydration, with Dennis Seidenberg. True, they were only one of three pairings, but the Bruins finally stopped turning over puck after puck to the Habs in prime scoring areas.
Thomas remained far too charitable, and he’ll have to be much better for the Bruins to even the series Thursday, but his defensemen did their job. The Bruins blocked 22 shots, five more than the Habs, and 14 of those blocks were made by his D-men. Andrew Ference led the way with four.
Seidenberg, with the comfort of having Big Z to his immediate left, posted a game-high six hits. Chara landed three smacks. Together, they averaged just under 26 minutes in ice time. On a night when the Habs posted a 36-25 shot advantage, and connected for a couple of squirrely goals, Seidenberg and Chara were just the kind of stake(s) in the ground that the Bruins couldn’t establish in Games 1 and 2.
“I mean, he’s our captain,’’ said Patrice Bergeron, referring of course to Chara. “To have him back there again is huge for us.’’
But it was the quiet, efficient Bergeron, who ended up the game’s No. 1 star, on a night when he contributed two assists, won 10 of 16 faceoffs, and led everyone with a meaty plus-3. He also contributed 1:24 in killing off all of Montreal’s 6:57 on the power play. He also landed four hits, tying Shawn Thornton for smacks on the forward corps.
Why did Team Canada insist Bergeron come with it to Vancover for last year’s Olympics? Because of the kind of service complet performance he put on here last night in his home province. The Habs in 2003 drafted the highly forgettable Cory Urquhart with their No. 40 selection. The Bruins, slotted 45th, took Quebec City homeboy Patrice Bergeron-Cleary.
All of which underscores, once more, that not everything goes the Habs’ way. Not even here, in their own building, on nights when the visiting team comes close to giving it away.