|05.10.14 at 1:58 pm ET|
Going into the second round against the Canadiens, it was probably natural for Bruins fans to fear the Bell Centre, where it seemed the Bruins would inevitably fall victim to home-ice calls and see the Habs take advantage of power-play goals.
With two games played in each Boston and Montreal, it turns out TD Garden has been the bigger problem for the B’s in that regard.
The Canadiens had nine power plays in Games 1 and 2 in Boston and capitalized with four power-play goals, but the Bruins surprisingly took just one penalty in each game in Montreal for Games 3 and 4.
“That’s how it should be,” Loui Eriksson said Saturday morning. “It’s always a tough game out there. Everyone is playing hard, but we’ve played pretty good that way. We were disciplined that game. I think that’s what we need to do: not take too much penalties. I think if we play five-on-five, we’re in good shape.”
The Canadiens got calls early on in the series by feeding into their reputation for embellishing, as Dale Weise drew a Matt Bartkowski trip in Game 1 and Alexei Emelin drew a trip from Caron in the next game by going down with minimal contact. After Game 2, Claude Julien said that the Bruins won the game despite putting up with a lot of “crap.” Going into Game 5, he was singing a different tune.
“You can say what you want; I have no complaints about the refereeing,” Julien said. “In this series, I think they’ve done a wonderful job of letting both teams play. So at the end of the night, for the most part, the better team has won.”
Told of Julien’s approval of the officiating now that there are less calls, Michel Therrien laughed and said, “I’m sure he said that.”
Weird laughing from Therrien aside, special teams naturally can be expected to be a factor going forward. After only having three power plays themselves in Montreal, the Bruins still have yet to score a power-play goal on eight opportunities. The B’s were third in the league in power-play efficiency in the regular season, so they can only hope they can take better advantage while their No. 8-ranked penalty kill does a better job of silencing guys like P.K. Subban when the Habs have a man advantage.
“We haven’t scored on a power play yet,” Julien said. “We hit a crossbar last game, we hit a post at some point. You have to look at all those different things, but we haven’t scored.
“Their power play has been good, so maybe people seem to think the advantage is to them if there are more special teams [scenarios], but overall, our special teams were fairly good this year. It just happens to be, as I mentioned, in the playoffs. It’s so important to be disciplined and both teams are trying to be disciplined.”
|05.10.14 at 1:37 pm ET|
The Bruins are still awaiting the arrival of David Krejci‘s production in the second round, but first-line silence hasn’t been a one way street. On the other side, Montreal is still awaiting Max Pacioretty‘s first goal of the series after the Connecticut native put up 39 goals during the regular season.
Both Pacioretty and David Desharnais, who make up two thirds of Montreal’s top line with either Thomas Vanek or Brendan Gallagher, have just one point — each an assist — apiece through four games thus far.
“Playing here in this environment, I’ve got to be relied upon, I’ve got to be relied upon to score important goals and I haven’t done that yet,” Pacioretty said after the Habs’ morning skate Saturday. “I’ve just got to keep playing the way I have been and maybe just calm down a bit.”
It isn’t just that Pacioretty isn’t showing up, but rather the fact that he has to play against the best defenseman in the league. Pacioretty admitted that Zdeno Chara has gotten the better of him so far in the series, as Chara and Dougie Hamilton haven’t allowed anything to that top line in five-on-five play.
“That’s priority No. 1 I think,” Hamilton said Saturday of keeping Pacioretty quiet. “For me, I’m just trying to shut down their top lines and play physical on them and limit them. We’ve just got to keep trying to do that. I think all our D have done a good job of that, just trying to stay aware and limit our mistakes.”
Said Pacioretty: “It’s obvious that they want to pair certain guys against us. It’s not an excuse; it’s a good challenge. We haven’t risen to that challenge yet. Myself personally, I’ve got to do a better job of being able to overcome that adversity.”
Krejci and friends don’t have to worry about going up against a player like Chara, but Montreal has taken away their space. Boston’s first line created a ton of chances in Game 1 of the series but failed to score, and the line has yet to play that well since the series opened. Milan Lucic scored an empty netter that Krejci assisted and Jarome Iginla scored a 6-on-5 goal by tipping an Andrej Meszaros shot in the final minutes of Game 3, but the trio has yet to produce a five-on-five goal this series.
With it now a three-game series, the question becomes which top line will step up first or which team is better suited to win a series without getting anything from its first line. The Canadiens are a deeper opponent offensively than the Red Wings were, and their third line of Lars Eller between Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque has gotten chances throughout the series.
The same goes for Boston’s third line, which produced the only goal of Game 4 when Matt Fraser scored the game-winner in overtime. Especially against Montreal’s third pairing of Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver, that line has gotten chance after chance but hasn’t capitalized enough. Daniel Paille scored the third line’s other goal in Game 2 when he was playing with Soderberg and Loui Eriksson.
Should Michel Therrien keep Weaver and Murray together, Soderberg and friends should be champing at the bit to continue to take advantage of that matchup, but with more production. The first lines are often expected to cancel each other out in the postseason, but when neither teams’ first lines are doing anything, even more responsibility falls on everyone else.
“I think our team is built like that,” Eriksson said. “Everyone can score on every line. I thought the last game we had some really good chances, our line, and we finally got one. That’s something we want to do to try to help the team as much as we can and score those goals.”
Neither the Bruins nor the Canadiens should be satisfied with the performance they’ve gotten out of their best forwards. Within days, one team will undoubtedly view it as a reason as to why their season was ended.
“It’s a three-game series now, and we’re in a very good position,” Pacioretty said. “We had a great first round, four games into this we’re tied up. I like where our team’s standing right now.”
|05.10.14 at 11:40 am ET|
Milan Lucic was the only absence from the Bruins’ morning skate Saturday, though different players have been kept off the ice for practices and morning skates throughout the postseason for rest’s sake.
Lucic skated Friday and was spotted in the Bruins’ dressing room after Saturday’s skate, so it’s best to assume that the player was simply taking his option, as Carl Soderberg did Thursday before playing in Game 4.
All other players were on the ice for the B’s, including Dennis Seidenberg. The veteran defenseman has still yet to take contact as he tries to work his way back from a torn ACL/MCL.
Game 5 of the second round against the Canadiens will be played Saturday night at TD Garden. The series is tied, 2-2.
|05.10.14 at 12:22 am ET|
If the Bruins advance past this round, the chatter about Dennis Seidenberg will inevitably grow louder and louder. Until Seidenberg does come back — if that ever happens this postseason — the Bruins will make due with either Matt Bartkowski or Andrej Meszaros in their lineup. Both have been given their shot at points this postseason, and both have struggled to establish a stranglehold on the position.
All things considered, Bartkowski is a superior player to Meszaros. He skates better and he’s stronger, but he’s struggled since returning to the lineup after missing the first two games of the first round with the flu.
Bartkowski had rough showings in Games 4 and 5 of that series, and a Game 1 performance against the Canadiens that saw him take two penalties (the first of which was on a Dale Weise dive, the second of which was a penalty he took in double overtime), Claude Julien opted to play Meszaros over him in Games 2 and 3. Meszaros predictably struggled and saw a blocked shot of his end up going the other way for the game-winning goal in Game 3, so Bartkowski was put back in for Thursday’s Game 4.
Back and forth, in and out, and still looking to regain the form he had before he was sick. Despite being the class clown of Boston’s blueline when it comes to his sense of humor, Bartkowski is generally pretty blunt when it comes to assessing his work. As such, he doesn’t fret about whether he’ll be in the lineup from game to game.
“I mean, I kind of know if I’m going to be in or not,” Bartkowski said. “I know when I play well; I know when I play bad.”
So what did he think of Game 1?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t even remember, to be honest.”
Earlier in the week, Peter Chiarelli suggested that Bartkowski had “got out of sync a little bit” after returning from the flu, but the player says he doesn’t want to use his early postseason illness as an excuse for his play of late. Since he’s been in, Bartowski said, he’s been fine physically.
“I just wasn’t playing to my potential,” he said of his play.
If he’s OK physically, he still needs to bring a sharper game to the ice. He’s been caught out of position and he’s struggled to knock guys off of pucks. At points, Bartkowski’s been more prone to taking himself out of the play than the player he’s defending.
Though neither he nor Meszaros are slam-dunks, it’s worth remembering that Bartkowski was a hesitant player early on in his NHL career because he didn’t want to make mistakes in his brief NHL stints. Knowing a bad performance means a trip to the press box might add some of those jitters Bartkowski used to face. Then again, it’s been three seasons since he’s gotten his first taste of the NHL and he has since established himself as someone who would be a regular NHL blueliner on most teams, so there’s a good enough chance he’s outgrown all of that.
Remember, it was just a year ago that Bartkowski had scored in Game 7 of the first round and went on to perform well in the second round against the Rangers with Boston’s blue line banged up. Bartkowski has shown in the past that he can play in the postseason, but the Bruins could use a reminder.
|05.09.14 at 1:35 pm ET|
NBC Sports hockey analyst Pierre McGuire joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss the Bruins’ Game 4 overtime win against Montreal. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Matt Fraser, who played in his first playoff game on Thursday, became an unlikely hero when he scored 1:19 into overtime to give the Bruins a 1-0 win in Game 4.
“You could almost sense it coming from that line, to be perfectly honest,” McGuire said. “I made that point a lot during the broadcast. I thought both [Carl] Soderberg wanted it off the crossbar, [Loui] Eriksson was really pushing the pace and obviously Fraser fit in really well with them. Peter Chiarelli and the scouting staff of the Bruins and Bruce Cassidy out in Providence deserve a lot of credit.
“This is a kid who was an undrafted player coming out of the Western Hockey League, and he’s part of a big trade last summer with Rich Peverley going the other way and Tyler Seguin going the other way. He fits in so well. It was just a ping-pong play off the back board.
“I thought the Bruins really played a methodical, smart, surgical kind of game last night.”
The Bruins have had just two penalties during the past two games of the series.
“I just think they’re worried about taking penalties,” McGuire said. “The Bruins win that double-overtime game in Game 1, they become more of a beast, more physical, but they went down 0-1 in the series. They knew they couldn’t go down 0-2, they had to scramble to win Game 2, they lose Game 3 and now they’re saying, ‘Uh-oh, we cannot allow these guys to get man advantages,’ so they changed a little bit of their dynamic. I also think heading into tomorrow’s game, now that it’s 2-2 and heading back to Boston, I truly believe we’ll see a more physical Bruins team, more like the Bruins team the fans in Boston are used to seeing.”
“Just for whatever reason, David Krejci looks a little fatigued to me,” McGuire said. “I think today maybe he gets a day off and he goes into the game tomorrow energized and he plays a little bit better, but he wasn’t managing the puck well during that game, especially during the power play. They need to be better, and I think they will be better. I think the biggest part of it was Krejci with the Olympics, with all the games he played last year, the fact that he’s not an overly large guy. I think there’s a fatigue factor with him.”
|05.09.14 at 11:05 am ET|
Bruins forward Shawn Thornton joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday following Thursday’s overtime win against the Canadiens in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“It is a three-game series,” Thornton said of the rest of the semifinals, “but I think you look at it, honestly, just as tomorrow and you focus on winning tomorrow. I think if you start looking at, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get two out of three, got to win both at home, you just start — all focus should be on the first period tomorrow, then the second period, then the third period.
“That’s how I approach it. That’s how our team approaches it and that’s why we’ve been pretty good in the playoffs the last few years.”
The Bruins have struggled with puck luck as several of their shots have hit the post in this series.
“[It's] eight, nine times now?” Thornton said. “Keep saying to yourself the next one’s going to go in, the next one’s going to go in, I guess. It has been a lot of ringing it off the bar. I think three last game? Carl [Soderberg], [Reilly Smith] and [Jarome Iginla] had a couple the game before.
“You hope the hockey gods start letting those go in for you.”
The Bruins’ first line in particular has struggled to find the back of the net in the series.
“The effort’s there,” Thornton said. “It’s not like they’re just coasting around. The pucks are going to start going in for them. They’re too good for them not to.”
|05.09.14 at 12:37 am ET|
MONTREAL — It was a lot easier for Claude Julien to admit the obvious after a 1-0 overtime win in Game 4 than the alternative. His team still does not look like the squad that won 54 games and the Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points.
If it weren’t for the efforts of a player just called up from Providence to bolster the third line, the Bruins could easily be looking at being down 3-1 heading into Game 5 Saturday night back at TD Garden.
But Matt Fraser saved the day and Julien was grateful, not only to the player who got 14 games under his belt this season but to his boss Peter Chiarelli, who called Fraser up in time for Game 4. What did Julien expect?
“The winning goal,” Julien quipped. “He’s been playing well lately in Providence and actually has been scoring some goals. He’s been playing some pretty good hockey and he showed that tonight. I liked his game, not because he scored but his whole game. He seemed to be strong on the puck, making some good decisions, wasn’t turning pucks over, seemed to be skating well. It was nice to see [goal] happen. The GM probably deserves the credit because he was the one who called him up. He’s a good player. We knew that. We had him for quite a while there this year. He can certainly shoot the puck and he has a knack to score some goals. In this series, we need that.”
Then Julien seemed to go back to reality, the reality that his top two lines seem stuck in the mud against Montreal’s system, giving them precious little room to maneuver in the offensive zone. David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Jarome Iginla and Patrice Bergeron have been bottled up in this series. Things were so bad that Julien tried to loosen everyone up by completely breaking up the lines in the Thursday morning skate.
“A win was important obviously to get us back in this series,” Julien said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. That’s not to downplay this win. We’ve played hard but I know I’ve seen our team play better. But you know it seems to be a process right now and we’re working through it. You hope that this win here helps us to get better anyways, and you go from there.
“There’s no doubt these guys are working hard, they care, they want to. Just because it doesn’t always go as smooth as we like it to be, what I like is we’re showing character and we’re battling through it and trying to find ways to win games.
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