Tim O’Sullivan: Big bad B’s back in control
For the first time all series, the Bruins brought their big and bad from the opening faceoff in yesterday’s Game 5. They also produced on the power play for the first time. Add those two together and you get a third first for this series – Boston in the driver’s seat with a chance to end things tomorrow night in Montreal.
In the first four games against the Canadiens, the Bruins played with the lead for a scant 12 minutes. Last night at TD Garden, they finally got on top and stayed there for a 4-2 victory and a 3-2 series lead. And they did it with the punishing physical edge and depth they’ve shown all season.
Milan Lucic and the Boston defense set the tone with some early banging. Lucic’s physicality had been absent against Montreal, but it was back last night as the big forward finished with a game-high seven hits and the Bruins held a 39-29 advantage in hits for the game.
The aggressive play led to eight first-period penalties, four on each team, and that’s a dangerous game for Boston. After all, the Canadiens were 4-for-9 on the power play in the first two games of the series, which is why the Bruins made a point of playing smarter in Games 3 and 4 and took only one penalty in each game. But last night they adjusted their penalty kill to take away time and space from Montreal’s P.K. Subban (11 points in the first two games) and killed all of the first-period power plays by the Canadiens.
While the special teams have been inconsistent (more on that later), Boston’s third line has been a rock. Newly-minted third-line winger Matt Fraser scored the storybook overtime game-winner in his NHL playoff debut in Game 4 and yesterday third-line center Carl Soderberg was the game’s first star. The big Swede delivered the critical first goal with 6:40 left in the first period after he won an offensive zone faceoff, drifted to the slot, took a feed from Loui Eriksson and beat Carey Price with a snapper.
The Bruins are now 6-0 in these playoffs when scoring first. When they get the lead, they can do what they do best – dump, chase and punish with four relentless lines. That grinding style, and the goaltending of Tuukka Rask, are their trademarks. If they can add a competent power play to that mix, they’re lethal, and that’s just what happened last night.
Boston started the second period on the power play thanks to a goalkeeper interference call on Tomas Plekanec with 17 seconds left in the first. The Bruins took advantage when Reilly Smith tipped in a shot from Dougie Hamilton 1:04 into the second with the second assist going to, who else, Soderberg, who kept the play alive from the point. Before that, Boston had been 0-for-8 on the power play in the series and a mind-boggling 0-for-39 against Montreal in the playoffs going back to the postseason meetings in 2009 and 2011.
Not only were the Bruins due to score with a man advantage against their bitter rivals, they were apparently overdue because just 32 seconds later, they netted another power-play goal. Once again Plekanec was the guilty party, this time for a high stick he delivered just before Johnny Boychuk delivered an open ice hit. Jarome Iginla took advantage with a one-timer off a beautiful cross-ice backhand pass from Torey Krug and suddenly the one-goal lead had ballooned to three, and the Bruins could grind, grind and grind some more.
In some ways, the series is matching the pattern from the first three games. The Canadiens held significant third-period leads in all three of those contests (3-1 in Games 1 and 2, 3-0 in Game 3), but the Bruins kept working, kept pressuring and eventually pulled themselves back into all three contests. Boston only pulled out one win in those three, the 5-3 decision in Game 3, but their depth and heavy style clearly wore down Montreal by the end.
The Canadiens may be worn down again, but make no mistake, they’re still dangerous, just like they were at the end of Game 1 and Game 3. Yes, the Bruins are in control, but they have to be careful tomorrow in Montreal.
Boston needs to keep bringing the physicality it finally showed yesterday, but it can’t take six more penalties. That’s playing with fire. The Canadiens answered Boston’s penalty kill adjustments with some tweaks of their own and scored two power-play goals on their last two chances last night. The Bruins will be better off following the methodical game plan they used in Game 4 to quiet the Bell Centre crowd and let their depth and goaltending lead the way.
But last night, playing big and bad was the perfect plan, and if this comes back to Boston for a Game 7, expect more of the same.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)