|04.25.11 at 1:00 pm ET|
One team won two games in a row. Then the other rattled off three straight. For series that has seen such stretches of wins, it’s quite surprising that neither run has exactly featured dominance. It’s been close the whole way.
Looking at the Bruins/Canadiens Eastern Conference quarterfinals series, neither team has necessarily outperformed one another to the point of it being noteworthy. Both teams have scored 12 goals in the series, and neither has won by more than two goals (something that’s only occurred twice). The Bruins, who hold a 3-2 series lead, have a chance to close it out Tuesday, and it’s just how close it’s been that has let them keep the right perspective.
“The last two games have been in overtime and could have gone either way, right? It could have been a totally different series,” Gregory Campbell said of the Bruins’ victories in Games 4 and 5. “Even the first three games were tight as well. We had a lot of chances in the first two games, and in Game 3, they had the lead on us.”
Given their awareness of just how close it’s been, there is no chatter of desired second-round opponents. The B’s know that if they let up even the tiniest bit, the Habs can put their backs to the wall.
“It hasn’t been the case, where you look at other series, and there’s been some games where a team has dominated the other team. That’s not been the case in this series,” Chris Kelly said. “Every game’s been close, and a hard-fought battle right to the end of the game. We don’t expect anything different tomorrow night, and I don’t think they would either.”
With all that having been said, there’s obviously the added factor of desperation. The Habs are playing for their playoff lives, but the Bruins are also taking the must-win approach. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, depending on the way you approach it.
“You don’t want to ever categorize a game where it kind of takes you off your game and makes us tense. You feel everything’s got to be done in the first period and think, ‘we have to get the first goal,'” Campbell said. “I mean, We have to play our game. We have to play like we’ve been playing the last three games. That has included being desperate, that’s included making plays, getting a lot of chances and scoring goals. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow night.”
|04.25.11 at 10:42 am ET|
The Bruins are one win away from advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third time in as many seasons. Momentum would appear to be on their side, as they have won the last three games of this quarterfinal series vs. the Habs, including the last two in overtime. In order to close it out and move on, they’ll need to win either Tuesday at the Bell Centre (their first trip to Montreal since Bird Gate), or Wednesday in Boston. Here are six things they might need in Game 6:
1. Never underestimate a desperate team
If the Bruins have trouble with this one, perhaps they didn’t learn anything from a certain series last year. The Habs want nothing more than to force a Game 7 in Boston Wednesday, and given that the teams won’t have a day off before the decisive final game, the B’s wouldn’t want to give the Habs that momentum.
2. Get even a fraction of the Tim Thomas they got in Game 5
Thomas has established himself as one of the better goaltenders in the league since making it to the show with the Bruins. In his six-plus seasons in Boston, he’s done some incredible things. He won a Vezina a couple of years ago and figures to win another for this season’s performance. He broke the single-season save percentage record. He’s even racked up 26 shutouts with the Bruins.
Amidst all the great showings the 37-year-old has turned in, Thomas’ performance in Game 5 had people wondering whether, despite it not being a shutout, they were seeing some version of Tim Thomas that is generally saved for special occasions. Thomas’ save on Brian Gionta when the Habs captain and Travis Moen were on a 2-on-1 was sensational, as he didn’t cheat towards Gionta in anticipation of the pass, but was still able to get over in time to make the highlight-reel stop after it. If the B’s can get that type of performance Tuesday, they’ll certainly be hard to beat.
3. Make the power play an actual advantage
This one’s almost like the free space in Bingo. It just goes without saying, so it’s almost cheap to include this among the six. Even if it does go without saying, the power play has gone without scoring for too long. The 0-for-15 mark it’s posted in the playoffs might make one wonder if the team ever scores on the power play. Such questions can be answered with the reassuring stat of the seven goals they’ve had on 80 power plays since acquiring Tomas Kaberle.
4. Watch out for that pesky blue line
The two teams combined for 10 offsides calls in Game 5. While it is perhaps a goaltender’s second-best friend, there’s no better way to disrupt an offense. This is certainly an area in which both teams would like to see less calls.
5. Get the Chris Kelly line the B’s got in Game 4
The Kelly line with Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley was the biggest one for the Bruins in their Game 4 overtime win. While Ryder made two very big non-offensive plays (a nice save and a nifty backcheck), the line’s output wasn’t nearly what it was when it pumped out three goals Thursday in Montreal. Ryder had three shots on goal Saturday, while Peverley had just one and Kelly had none. Kelly was one of only two Bruins players (Gregory Campbell) to have a negative rating on the night.
There has been no Bruin better than Patrice Bergeron in this series, and given the way Tim Thomas played Saturday, that’s saying something. Bergeron has six points over the last four games, and it seems his work has also elevated the play of Brad Marchand, who has four points over the last four.
Though the Bergeron line has been great, the David Krejci line has been hot and cold. The coldest link has certainly been Milan Lucic, who still has no goals and just one point through five games, though he was more involved Saturday night and led the Bruins with eight shots on goal in the double-overtime contest. If he can keep sending pucks Carey Price‘s way, he’ll be able to snap out of it.
|04.25.11 at 10:06 am ET|
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference joined the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the playoff series vs. the Canadiens. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Ference was fined $2,500 for giving the middle finger to the Canadiens crowd after scoring in Game 4. He still insists his glove got stuck and it was not intentional. “I’m standing by it,” he said. “It would be a lot more interesting if I didn’t. But I paid the fine for it. I’m glad it wasn’t on purpose or else I could get suspended. ‘¦ The glove got stuck. I paid my fine.”
Discussing the fact that there is so much violence on the ice and he got fined for something that did not hurt anyone physically, Ference said: “We’re a sport of contradictions. It kind of fits our little world that we live in. We have some crazy violence in our sport, but we’re also pretty easy guys to get along with, to go out for a beer with.”
Ference said he’s prepared for the Montreal crowd to boo him Tuesday night. “I’d much rather hear that than their cheering and their little song that they’ve got there,” he said, adding: “It’s fun. Honestly, it’s awesome. We go up there and it is a crazy place to play because they’re nuts about hockey and about their team. … Honestly, that’s pretty cool to play in front of. It’s great to play at home where everybody’s cheering you on, but to have that many people who really hate your team, it’s pretty cool. It’s fun.”
Injured Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty tweeted a joke about Bruins rookie Brad Marchand‘s big nose during Saturday night’s game (he later removed the tweet and apologized). Ference responded with sarcasm. “That’s way worse than the bird. That’s going after somebody’s physical appearance. We never bug Marchand about his nose. I didn’t even notice it was big. Is it big?” he said to laughs from the hosts.
Added Ference: “God forbid the time when we get that politically correct.”
Asked if it’s difficult to bounce back from an overtime loss ‘ or win ‘ and be ready to play right from the start in the next game, Ference said the veterans shouldn’t have any problem. “I think guys are pretty good about walking away from games and kind of hitting reset,” he said. “I don’t know ‘ everybody’s different. When you’re real young it’s harder to control your emotions. But when you get older or have been to the playoffs a couple of times, like most of our guys on our team have, it’s a lot easier to move past either one of [a win or a loss].”
Ference said the margin between winning or losing these tight games often is “dumb luck” and that he enjoys the extra sessions. “I actually like overtime better than the regular game because there’s no TV timeouts. You just go, and it really goes by fast,” he said. “If you can roll your lines and your defense pairs, you can get into a very good rhythm.
“I love overtime. Everybody in the stands is going crazy. Every shot, you’re kind of holding your breath, for and against. It’s great. It’s enjoyable. It’s fun to play in.”
|04.24.11 at 1:20 pm ET|
Tomas Kaberle was supposed to be the answer for Boston’s power play. So far, there’s just been more questions in what has been an ugly tryout for a new contract.
Seemingly destined to don the black and gold eventually, the Bruins finally acquired the heavily sought-after free agent-to-be 10 days prior to the trade deadline. Since then, the Bruins’ power play has been almost unfathomably unproductive. With just seven goals in 80 opportunities, the unit has been clicking just eight percent of the time. Even general manager Peter Chiarelli said recently that the team expected more out of the defenseman when they sent a first-round pick and highly touted prospect Joe Colborne to Toronto in exchange for the veteran defenseman. Chiarelli isn’t the only one hoping Kaberle can pick it up.
“I always put a lot of pressure on myself,” Kaberle said Sunday at TD Garden. “Hopefully I can prove why I’m here. I would like to help with every little thing I can do on the ice. Obviously, I am one of the guys on the PP, and it would be nice to be something going there.”
Kaberle had nine points for the Bruins in his 24 regular season contests since being acquired, but as the spotlight grew brighter with the arrival of the playoffs, the 33-year-old had an ugly showing. He reversed a puck too hard in the Bruins’ zone, making for an easy Scott Gomez pass to Brian Gionta to set up what would be the game-winning goal.
From there, things didn’t improve as much as they needed to. Kaberle had major struggles in Game 2, displaying an inability to keep the puck in the zone on routine plays, a suggestion that perhaps he may have been pressing. If a turnaround is to be made, perhaps the defenseman can build on the fact that things have at least been looking up statistically. He’s had an assist in each of the last two games, and with how bad things were in Games 1 and 2, it’s a starting point.
“I felt like the first couple of games I could have been better,” Kaberle admitted Sunday. “The last few games, I’ve felt a lot better, and I’m feeling better confidence-wise. I’ll take it from there.”
Right now, any signs of confidence from Kaberle should be a good thing, as his play — despite making the as-advertised passes — has not been a major game-changer for the B’s in the postseason. He still isn’t producing on the man advantage, and his now-infamous fakes on the power play aren’t fooling anybody. Fairly or unfairly, Chiarelli’s move to get Kaberle will be seen as a major steal by the Leafs unless the power play starts getting the results that have eluded them for too long. There’s no better way to do that than to get the power play going, but teammates won’t let all the responsibility fall on Kaberle.
“I’m sure he feels pressure just like all of us,” Dennis Seidenberg said Sunday. “It’s not just him that wants to do better. I think it’s everybody that wants to create and wants to get that advantage you’re supposed to get. Right now it’s just not working, and I’m sure he thinks as much as everybody else about it — what he can do, and what we should do improve it. I guess it’s a work in progress.”
A first-round pick and a former first-round center with as high a ceiling as Colborne’s is not something a team wants to give up for a player that can help the power play be a “work in progress.” That type of package is reserved for a star player, and that’s clearly what the Bruins thought they were getting. There’s still time for Kaberle to justify the move and prove that the trade for a puck-moving defenseman was more than an asset-moving blunder, but for now the waiting game continues.
|04.24.11 at 1:00 pm ET|
The Bruins did not practice Sunday after their 2-1 victory in double-overtime over the Canadiens on Saturday night, though select members of the team and coach Claude Julien were at TD Garden to discuss the state of affairs with the team leading the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, 3-2.
The B’s, who found themselves in a hole after dropping the first two games of the season, have won three straight games, including the last two in overtime. Now one win away from going to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third time in as many years, Julien said he does not anticipate an easy time as the B’s try to clinch the series in Montreal on Tuesday.
“I think we just have to turn the page here and understand there is another full game to be played,” Julien said Sunday. “When you win three in a row you should feel confident. But again, there is a lot of work to be done. We know this next game is going to be the toughest one. You have a team playing for their lives and they are plying in their home building. So it represents a pretty big challenge for us so we are going to have to be at our best.”
|04.24.11 at 12:26 pm ET|
History can be a funny thing in sports.
It can be a teacher. It can be a guide. It can provide motivation.
If you’re the Boston Bruins, the next two days, it’s going to be all of the above.
The Bruins want to close out the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night in Game 6 because if they don’t they are going to hear about 2010 again. No, it’s not like they were up 3-0 against the Habs like they were against the Flyers in the Eastern semis last year but they are going to be asked about how hard it is for them to close a team out.
Just ask their coach.
“I think we’ve experienced that last year, right?” Claude Julien asked rhetorically in the afterglow of Game 5 Saturday night. “We don’t want to bring that up, but unfortunately it is what it is. That last win is a tough one, we recognize that. We need to go to Montreal with the intentions of winning that game and playing to win that game. We need to understand it’s probably going to be the toughest game of the series. When teams are playing for their lives they come out with their best effort. And we have to be ready for that.”
Then again, experience is what you make it – like Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton who are playing in their first playoffs. Marchand scored the first goal Saturday and Horton put in the game-winner in double-overtime.
“It was a huge goal for him,” Julien said of Horton. “I wasn’t worried about the fact he hasn’t played in the playoffs because he is a guy that competes all the time. That is one reason why he wanted to come to Boston was to be on an Original Six playoff team. I’m sure he is pretty happy. That has got to be his biggest goal but I think he has been great for us.”
Before the meltdown against Philly last year, there was the stunning Game 7 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in the Eastern semis in 2009 that kept a 53-win team on the sidelines as the NHL held its own final four party.
But having faced those pressure situations in past playoffs may finally be paying dividends. In Games 4 and 5, the Bruins have shown tremendous poise, to go along with great goaltending from Tim Thomas, Michael Ryder and Zdeno Chara.
“We’ve been through a lot the last few years and this was something different,” said Milan Lucic, the player who scored twice in Game 7 last year against Philly before the lights went out on the B’s offense. “Obviously this year going down the first two games at home and having to go to a building where we haven’t won all year and try to even up the series.
“But I think our focus so far is after those first two games wasn’t on the big picture like it was on the first two games. After we were down, the focus was just on, okay, forget about what’s going to happen. Let’s just worry about what we need to do next and what we’re going to do that next shift and that’s what is getting us in a bit of a groove here.”
The Bruins need to make sure the music doesn’t suddenly stop in Montreal Tuesday night.
|04.24.11 at 1:28 am ET|
Tim Thomas wasn’t just big Saturday night. He was – as they say in hockey – HUGE.
And his most monumental moment set up the game winner minutes later by Nathan Horton. If Thomas doesn’t stop Brian Gionta coming down the right wing and in on net for a clear shot with just over 13 minutes left in the double-overtime, the series has a totally different – and certainly desperate – feel for the Bruins.
“When it started I actually came out and was playing it as if [Travis] Moen would have a breakaway, because that’s what it looked like, a break, right off the start,” Thomas said of his stonewall job on Gionta. “And then I realized my D was going to get back and make it a two-on’one, and I was out pretty far so I had to make sure I started to get my backward momentum going so I could play both the shot and the pass. And I was just barely had enough speed to be able to make that push over on the pass. And I was just fortunate enough to get a leg out and cover that part of the net.”
Was the save on Gionta that helped the Bruins take a 3-2 series lead the biggest save of his career?
“No, I mean I don’t have a list like that,” Thomas said at first before reconsidering the question. “I do have a couple that stick out from the past and stuff and I’m sure I haven’t had much time to think about it. Yeah, probably because it ended up being such an important save. And I’ll have to watch it to get a better picture of exactly what happened because it was the second overtime and thing happen fast and I was just playing goalie.”
Thomas also had some help, like in the first period when Michael Ryder slid down to stop Tomas Plekanec as Thomas was out of the crease.
“That was awesome,” Thomas said. “And I was actually turned around, I got to watch it pretty good. That was a huge save and in this type of game that’s a game-breaker.”
Is Thomas capable of appreciating what an epic game it was? Read the rest of this entry »