Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens Game 3: Keys for Each Team
The Boston Bruins have led the Montreal Canadiens for a cumulative 11 minutes and 39 seconds through two games in the NHL’s Atlantic Division Final. Conversely, the Habs have led on three occasions for an aggregate 56:54.
Yet an outburst that saw the Bruins morph a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 triumph within 9:04 has altered the makeup of the series.
Saturday afternoon’s turnaround has drawn a 1-1 knot for the contesting parties to pack on their journey north of the border.
Besides coming home, the good news for the Canadiens is that they have a rare three-day gap between Games 2 and 3. The bonus off-night lessens the likelihood of residual momentum sticking for the Bruins at the Bell Centre by Tuesday’s faceoff.
Game 2 did, however, generate and accelerate a few talking points worth carrying over as the series switches venues. The change of scenery itself lends a few stand-alone keys to the matchup as well.
The upper hand in the best-of-seven bout is up for grabs for the time-honored rivals.
Before they pursue that on Tuesday night, here is the latest grab bag of three keys for each team.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Key for Boston: Quick, Towering Shots
An easy majority of Boston’s seven goals, discounting an empty netter, have caught an upper corner of the cage.
Torey Krug inserted the first of two Game 1 equalizers by one-timing Milan Lucic’s lateral feed from the far circle-top. Fellow blueliner Johnny Boychuk drew another deadlock when he sent a straightaway slapper north of Price’s trapper.
Daniel Paille opened Saturday’s scoring with a blast from the high slot over Price’s blocker. He took barely a millisecond to settle Carl Soderberg’s diagonal feed before releasing the high-flyer.
Dougie Hamilton later cut into the 3-1 deficit on a shot that bore a visual fraternity to Boychuk’s the game prior.
Patrice Bergeron’s bid from the boards likewise cleared Price’s shoulders, albeit with help from a bounce off Habs defenseman Francis Bouillon.
On the game-clincher, Reilly Smith caught the Canadiens crease custodian in a vulnerable sprawling position. He merely needed to spoon his shot upstairs before Price could recover.
In addition, Boston could have cultivated earlier leads if not for a couple of elevated bids off the post by Shawn Thornton and Jarome Iginla. Inches made the difference between beating Price on the ice and beating Price on the scoreboard with those attempts.
One cannot overlook the sample sizes of both extremes.
The Bruins will base their decision between consternation and celebration by either giving Price time to prepare or scorching him with swift, soaring salsa biscuits.
Key for Montreal: Special Teams
Even if it did not account for the majority of its scoring on the road, Montreal’s power play would still be valuable at home in this matchup.
P.K. Subban’s point shot parented four power-play conversions for 57 percent of the Canadiens’ seven goals at the TD Garden. He slugged two himself in Game 1 while Thomas Vanek directed a pair past Tuukka Rask in Game 2.
In last Thursday’s series opener, those two connections broke the ice in the first period and put the game away in overtime.
Saturday’s pair spawned a 2-1 lead and augmented that lead to 3-1 as the dusk of regulation approached.
Granted, all but one of those leads evaporated, but that was in the adversary’s mansion. When the Habs are at home, momentous developments of that ilk ought to generate more buzz for them to feed off.
To compound that notion, the Canadiens may have an advantage to build on with each end of the special teams’ spectrum.
They converted twice in six power-play segments while killing each of their three penalties in Game 2.
Overall, Montreal has silenced the Bruins power play on five total sequences in this series—this after Boston had turned heads with six strikes on 16 chances in the first round against Detroit.
Keeping up the current trend in front of the Bell Centre masses could complicate the visitor’s endeavor to build on Game 2.
Key for Boston: Revamped Rask
Each goaltender in this series has allowed a minimum of three regulation goals in each of the first two games. Unlike Price, however, Tuukka Rask has let biscuits go by at a higher rate.
The Bruins backstop finished both Thursday and Saturday with a sub-.900 single-night save percentage.
A little more sharpness on his part in Game 1 could have granted his team a 2-0 edge in the series rather than a 1-1 deadlock.
Price also has two more individual shutout periods in the series. Rask has only kept the Habs scoreless for a full 20-minute stanza in the first overtime of Game 1 and the opening regulation frame of Game 2.
The good news is that those performances ought to leave Rask with a sense of something to prove.
He will need that drive for his first playoff bout at the Bell Centre, where he does have a favorable regular-season track record. He repelled 25 of 27 shots there Dec. 5 and 35 out of 36 on March 12.
Those past road bouts with the Canadiens should produce a healthy dose of poise for Rask. His first two playoff bouts against Montreal should drizzle a measure of resolution into the equation.
Together, those two elements will be crucial to Rask establishing a firm upper hand on his counterpart.
That development, in turn, would be critical to Boston’s efforts to raise its first upper hand of the series.
Key for Montreal: Up-and-Down Speed
Moving one’s feet and using one’s quickness can brew more benefits than just stimulating scoring threats.
Many of Montreal’s brighter moments in these playoffs have been when backcheckers blanket opposing puck-carriers.
Whether it is a forward or a defenseman, anyone with the ability and opportunity to minimize an opposing onslaught in that fashion should pounce.
And when at home, that approach can generate energy via forced turnovers and spontaneous counterattacks.
If Rask and his skating mates dig a deeper moat for Tuesday’s tone-setting phases, the Habs will need other resorts to continuously incite their crowd. Flexing their wheels to take away as many chances from the Bruins as they create for themselves is one way to do that.
Furthermore, Boston’s top forward unit of Jarome Iginla, David Krejci and Lucic has been conspicuously quiet through two games. Lucic has only a power-play assist and an empty netter, which Krejci picked up the primary helper on.
Whether the audience acknowledges it or not, keeping that line flustered in every zone can be a critical home-team energy-hog.
Key for Boston: Discipline on Defense
Of the nine total infractions in Boston’s Game 2 penalty column, seven were the fault of defenders.
Boychuk was the only Bruins blueliner not to sit in the sin bin on Saturday.
Conversely, Hamilton put his team on the penalty kill twice while Krug and Chara combined to constitute half of three sets of coincidental minors. Andrej Meszaros incurred the lone penalty on an incident at 16:23 of the second period, when he got cited for roughing Tomas Plekanec.
Meszaros received early bail on the Canadiens’ first man-advantage goal at the 18:09 mark. The same thing happened to Hamilton with 6:30 gone in the third.
That trend evoked memories of Game 1, when Matt Bartkowski accounted for two of Boston’s four penalties—the two that set up setbacks for the team.
With Montreal’s power play being one of the aforementioned keys, keeping defensemen out of penalty trouble is a natural key on Boston’s end.
But even when there are penalties on both sides, the Bruins do not want to have only five available rearguards—especially if coincidental infractions happen to leave teams at full strength.
Key for Montreal: The 3rd Period
Although their double-overtime goal eclipsed what necessitated those bonus stanzas, the Canadiens spilled 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the third period of Game 1.
The would-be worst-case scenario came to fruition when they squandered another multi-goal edge in Game 2.
Vanek’s second straight power-play conversion gave Montreal a 3-1 advantage with 13:30 to spare in regulation Saturday. It took two seconds shy of a full 10 minutes for that to devolve into a 4-3 deficit.
When the Bruins stamped their rally with an empty netter, they improved to 2-1 this postseason when trailing at the 40-minute mark.
Their other win in that situation came April 24, when they bumped the Red Wings in overtime, 3-2.
In the regular season and playoffs combined, the Habs were 39-0-3 when leading after two periods until Saturday.
And if not for Subban’s strike last Thursday, that unbeaten streak could have ended at 41 instead of 42.
Regardless, Saturday offered irrefutable proof that the preceding tear has no bearing on the present. The Bruins, in particular, have cemented their status as a team almost as hard to outrun as their zoological symbol.
Saturday was the fourth time Boston has surmounted a multi-goal deficit for a win in the last two playoffs.
Subban himself has stressed the opposition’s “resilient” reputation to the assembled press corps.
He and his teammates must translate those words of awareness to their actions in the next 60-minute struggle.