BOSTON – After playing 10 periods of hockey in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins delivered a solid regulation victory on home ice on Monday at TD Garden, a place where Boston has an 8-2 record in the playoffs and has not lost since Game 5 of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“You're always more comfortable at home, there's no doubt about that,” coach Claude Julien said Tuesday afternoon. “Having your fans behind you is always key. I think they always talk about that seventh player award; your fans are often the people that you, I guess, appreciate for being that. This is a building here that we deem as our home, a home that we don't want any other team to be comfortable in.”
A big part of the Bruins' wins so far in these Finals, and in the playoffs, has been the shutdown play of Boston’s defensemen, especially the top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who each played more than 25 minutes in Monday’s win and logged a ton of time during the first two games in Chicago.
“It’s crazy [the amount they have played]; I used to play those minutes on the lower levels growing up,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “It was tough then, so for them to do it at this level, against all the top players on the other teams, is definitely something special.”
Added fourth-line wing Shawn Thornton: “All the way through [the game] all six defenseman were great. [Chara and Seidenberg] really played the biggest minutes, but you look at Johnny [Boychuck] and Andy [Ference], they played against top lines all season through.”
Chara, who collided with Milan Lucic during warmups and had to go to the locker room to get stitches before Game 3, has been playing exceptionally long minutes.
“I think it’s amazing; you know [Chara is] such a big guy, but he’s so mobile for his size, said Krug. “You look at a lot of bigger guys around the league, they might not be able to move quite as well, but Zee doesn’t get beat wide, and it’s not just because of his size but because of his speed too.”
Another area that has led to success for Boston is its power play, which, during the regular season, was one of the least effective in the league. They scored just 18 goals in 122 power-play chances, fifth worst in the NHL.
But the Bruins' power play has been much better, scoring nine times during this postseason run, including twice in the past three games. And even when the Bruins haven’t put one in the back of the net with the man advantage in these playoffs, they have come much closer and have shown a lot more energy on the power play than they did in the regular season.
“I think what you've seen is when you add a guy like Jagr, when you put a guy [out there] like Krug, who is extremely good on the power play, you've plugged in some certain holes or added to that depth,” said Julien. “There's a lot of things that have happened, like at the trade deadline, guys [getting] called up, that's really kind of stabilized [and] helped us on the power play … our power play right now is maybe not perfect, but it's a lot better.”
Since Gregory Campbell broke his leg in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh, Julien has had to shake up his bottom two lines in order to replace Campbell, but also had to solve the issue of the third line being the least productive by far for the Bruins this season.
Starting in Game 2, when things looked bleak and the Bruins were fortunate to only be down 1-0 after the first period, Julien decided to shake up the bottom two lines, moving Daniel Paille up to the third line with Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin. That jump-started the team.
That decision has paid immediate dividends, with the “hunch line” (a reference to Julien’s “coach’s hunch” that led him to put the three together in the first place) scoring the last three 5 on 5 goals for the Bruins, with Paille scoring two goals and an assist, Kelly scoring a goal with another assist, and Seguin adding two assists of his own.
“I just think [it’s] the way they work together,” said Julien. “You know, you look at [Paille’s] goal yesterday, [a] great forechecking job forces a turnover … Once the turnover is there, pass to the slot, [and then] good shot. But also staying on top of the puck [was important]; we won two battles right after that shot in order to score that goal.”
Among the top scorers in these Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps none has been bigger, and more surprising, than Paille, who had just two goals in the first three series the Bruins played, but has scored the game-winners in each of the past two games.
“He's been big for our team,” said Campbell. “I've gotten the opportunity to watch him now that I'm not playing with him. He does a lot of things that really help out a team in the playoffs. Playoff hockey is really where he shines ... It's the simple things that might not draw a lot of attention during the regular season, but when it really matters in the playoffs, he's been there for us.”
Heading into Game 4 Wednesday night, look for the series to continue to be very physical and tough, as seen in the final seconds of Game 3, where almost every player on the ice got involved in a rink-wide scrum, resulting in several last-minute penalties, including a double-minor to Chara and a fighting major to Brad Marchand.
“You know that’s hockey, it happens at every game, it’s indicative, I think of how the series will go from here,” said Marchand about his scuffle with the Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw. “[This series is] tough; they have a lot of skill and talent…they got some really good looks last game, but Tuukka was able to stand tall. We’re just trying to work hard out there and play our game.”