More power needed
It may never be safe for the Bruins to go back to Montreal. For decades, too many playoff dreams have been left strewn across Highways 93 and 89 and connecting routes in Quebec for the Black-and-Gold ever to think that anything is a certainty, or even comfortable, when facing Les Glorieux come springtime.
Maybe things are different this time. The Bruins have a chance to close out their first-round series with the Habs in Game 6 tonight, barely a week after showing up in La Belle Province looking hapless, shapeless, and poised to be swept right out of the postseason.
But here they are, riding a three-game win streak, only the second time in franchise history the Bruins have opened 0-2 in a playoff series and strung together three Ws (see: 1952, Round 1 vs. Montreal). Win tonight, or tomorrow night in Game 7 back at the Garden if necessary, and it will be the first time in 27 tries the Bruins have survived an 0-2 start.
“The fourth win is the toughest,’’ said Quebecois homeboy Patrice Bergeron, whose persistence, efficiency, and pluck again have gone largely unnoticed in this series, even if he does lead all Bruins in scoring (2-4—6) and plus/minus (plus-4). “To be desperate is what you want to do.’’
Desperate is now the domain of the Habs, who’ve become accustomed to these sorts of gargantuan fails in recent years. In both ’96 (vs. Rangers) and 2006 (vs. Carolina), they opened Round 1 with back-to-back victories in their opponents’ buildings, and each time were eliminated after dropping the next four games.
Such seismic CH faults are hard for Boston fans to imagine, especially those who remember the many two-handers to the heart during the 45 years (1943-1988) the Bruins went between playoff series victories against the Habs. Now they are just 60 minutes, and maybe a touch of OT, from moving on past their most hated rival.
“We just know we fell behind the first two games and we didn’t play our best,’’ said captain Zdeno Chara, named a Norris Trophy finalist yesterday just before the Bruins departed for Montreal. “We knew that we had to be better. We’re just playing with a lot more desperation.’’
For all the good vibes they should feel after slipping out from under the 0-2 start, the Bruins remain vulnerable, in large part because of their dysfunctional power play, which has been shut out over five games (0 for 15). In Game 5, an 0 for 3 fold on the man-advantage, they were more inclined to bring Chara closer to the net, the towering defenseman cheating down from the right point a couple of times for looks around the right wing circle. But the three chances yielded nearly no true scoring opportunities and even less pressure. If the Bruins let the Habs escape this spring, the bankrupt man-advantage will have been the No. 1 culprit.
“It’s really, really about our guys are so tense right now,’’ said coach Claude Julien, who closed out his offday media briefing with a frank assessment of the punchless power play. “And understand, they know, just as much as you guys [media] know and we know as coaches, that our power play has not been up to par this year . . . and the longer it goes, the tougher it gets.’’
Had the Habs power play (2 for 16) been anything to talk about, in French or English, the Bruins already might have been sent packing. Truth is, the Habs also have their foibles aplenty, including a very spotty offense and overall lack of size among their forwards — which may well be the root cause of that spotty offense.
Bad, uncharacteristic turnovers in Games 1 and 2 led the Bruins to hand the Habs early leads. In fact, the Habs led for a combined 116:33 in those games, the Bruins never able to pull even or manage a second’s worth of lead time after rolling out their vaudevillian-like gaffes-for-goals game plan.
In the next three games, the Bruins twice scored first, and rolled up the three victories with a combined lead time of 66:12 compared with Montreal’s 36:15. The team to score first stands 4-1 in this series, which no doubt Julien will underscore to his charges again tonight.
The Bruins also effectively have been without a No. 1 line throughout the series. The Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton trio has combined for a paltry 3-1—4 in the five games, their play often out of synch and their nose for the net near non-existent. Horton potted the OT winner in Game 5, but otherwise he did little with his 24:25 in ice time. To his credit, he was in the right place, hugged tight to the right post, to provide the tap-in of a blocked Andrew Ference wrister that ended it with 9:03 gone in the second OT.
The overall play of Bergeron and the emerging play of rookie Brad Marchand and the nearly forgotten Michael Ryder have helped the Bruins shake the 0-2 doldrums. Tim Thomas, who made 44 stops Saturday night, also has begun to look like his regular-season self, the version that made him a finalist in this season’s Vezina voting.
“I think we’ve gotten back to playing our game a little bit,’’ Bergeron said. “We’ve been able to relax and execute. But at the same time, it’s not over. We still have to execute.’’
Execute properly and it could be over tonight. Or get a second crack at it tomorrow night at the Garden. A built-in second chance. Rarely have the Bruins gone to Montreal with such reassurance, such comfort . . . if there is such a thing in Montreal come springtime.