Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens Game 4: Keys for Each Team
One of those trends will trip up Thursday night in Game 4 of the Atlantic Division Final at the Bell Centre.
After subsisting on an initial 3-0 lead for a 4-2 triumph in Game 3, the Habs seek a stranglehold on the regular-season champion Bruins. After battling back to keep that game competitive before an empty-net dagger, Boston will look to impose a sound 60-minute effort.
Each of the first three games has seen Montreal start more favorably before Boston perks up in the latter half of regulation. Those are some basic half-full habits that each party will want to mend as the more decisive phases of the series approach.
Other items to watch for on each side Thursday night are as follows.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
Key for Boston: Stifling Subban
Can we rule out happenstance as the explanation for P.K. Subban’s production?
Montreal’s two-way, point-patrolling connoisseur has charged up a pair of points in each of the first three games. Of the 10 pucks to beat Bruins backstop Tuukka Rask, Subban has touched six of them last, second to last or third to last.
His first four points came on the power play, but his latest sample was an even-strength goal-assist variety pack. Boston’s failure to adequately monitor him bought him time to set up each of Game 3’s first two strikes.
First, he left his perch at the far point to win a race for a rolling puck and feed fellow playmaker Thomas Vanek on the icebreaker.
The outcome of that play accentuated Milan Lucic’s lack of hustle to that loose puck on the far wall. Subban needed to touch the disk for a fraction of a second to leave an imprint on the scoresheet and stimulate the home crowd.
Later in the opening frame, Subban bolted for a breakaway burial upon completing a two-minute penalty sentence. This time, he exploited an utter lack of awareness on Boston’s part as possession changed concomitant with the restoration of even strength.
As Subban broadens his means and situations of production, the Bruins must likewise accelerate their effort to eliminate his space. Every race, defensive setup and penalty kill must prioritize keeping the puck off his blade.
Game 3 was Boston’s worst-case scenario in failing to do that. The Habs got the upper hand in front of their own fans courtesy of their most electrifying star.
Key for Montreal: Torrid Transition
Not that they needed any power-play production in Game 3, but the Canadiens have the flair they need to summon a special teams scenario. More of the same jump that promptly doubled and tripled their 1-0 lead in Game 3 can help them achieve that.
Both Subban and Dale Weise tuned the mesh to augment the lead Tuesday night by eluding and outclassing Boston’s backcheckers on the rush. They need not bank on burying multiple breakaways a second game in a row, but they can exploit the opposing defense by other means.
After all, Tuesday yielded another rarity in that each team had only one penalty and one power play apiece. Odds are the officials will be less lenient going forward, and the Habs can use their wheels to tap into that on Thursday.
In turn, they can zap the energy from Boston’s key defensive skaters to a greater effect by forcing them to toil on the penalty kill.
Besides setting up straightforward chances and drawing penalties, persistent feet movement should also sustain a vocal home crowd. That would make for a worthwhile, momentum-building appetizer in case goal-scoring gratification does not arrive right away.
Key for Boston: Congestion
The reasons to deny speed to the Habs while on defense have been covered. Now for the benefits that come with doing the same on the other side of the center line.
When the Bruins clog the attacking zone and neutral zone with an assertive forecheck, they force turnovers and icings. That was what they did in the tone-setting phases of Game 3.
Montreal incurred three icings and gave the puck away within the first nine minutes and 15 seconds of action. The five home players charged with a turnover included Subban and goaltender Carey Price.
Flustering and draining the Canadiens in that fashion should take a more noticeable toll as the series progresses. Regardless of how many more games this round requires, it will hit its halfway mark no later than the middle of Thursday’s action.
To activate the benefit, the Bruins need to continue to percolate sustained attacks, ones that are a step above Tuesday’s tone-setters. They need to keep inducing situations where they have the privilege of deploying fresher legs than the opponent.
The more they force key Montreal mistakes, especially from key Montreal players, the better their odds of pulling even before they return to the TD Garden for Game 5. On top of that, setting and emboldening that trend would be a timely development to take home for a potential brink-pushing tiebreaker.
Key for Montreal: Preparation for Price
Any shot that goaltender Carey Price has time to brace for has next to no chance of entering the cage. While part of that is a discredit to his adversaries, another part is a credit to his own skating mates.
The Canadiens know from their Game 1 victory and his 48 saves therein that Price can handle a quantitative workload. But they should also know from Game 3 that it does not hurt to whittle down the bushel of biscuits their backstop confronts.
The Bruins landed 28 shots on goal Tuesday night, while Montreal skaters blocked 29 and another 10 traveled wide.
Per Shauna Denis of the team’s official website, head coach Michel Therrien said of Game 3:
Tonight the guys were battling really hard, blocking shots and Carey made some key saves at the right time. It was a good team effort. What I really like is we have a business-like attitude. We approach the game with a business mindset.
Therrien’s pupils will need nothing less than more of the same in Game 4. Although, they could do without the aforementioned turnovers that permeated the first 10 and final 20 minutes of the game. Price alone was responsible for three of 10 giveaways on Montreal’s tab in Tuesday’s third period.
Cutting down on that, and therefore retaining puck possession, can go a long way toward keeping Boston’s attack to a minimum.
Key for Boston: Finishing Chances
Just as the Canadiens need to keep Price’s workload reasonable, the Bruins need to take more hacks at a time. Their shots need a blend of timing, quantity and quality in order to punctuate the aforementioned congestion key.
Just as the Canadiens need to stop fumbling the puck in key stretches, the Bruins need to encourage a rerun of that trend. If and when that happens, they need to collect the garbage and deposit the resultant recycling on the scoreboard.
Boston cannot live out on deflections alone. Both of Tuesday’s goals came via the tip-in, but the scoreboard’s unbreakable jurisdiction declared that insufficient.
Granted, the point men have parented a gratifying share of the offense in this series. But deflections and direct goals, such as the ones from Torey Krug and Johnny Boychuk in Game 1 or Dougie Hamilton in Game 2, could use another associate.
Whether defensemen or forwards are doing the shooting, the Bruins need to aim for net-crashing rebounds when they cannot beat Price outright. Sometimes the key to finishing is to protract an attack for another moment.
Key for Montreal: Staying on the Accelerator
While solving Subban is the series-long struggle for the Bruins, putting the game away is Montreal’s foremost flaw.
The Habs have twice gotten away with a substandard third period en route to the 2-1 series lead. They need to kick that habit while they are literally ahead.
Discount Tuesday night’s empty-netter, and the Bruins have outscored the Canadiens in every closing frame of this series. In chronological order, a 2-0 lead has devolved into a 3-3 deadlock, a 2-1 edge into a 5-3 loss and a 3-1 advantage into a less promising 3-2 lead.
If they are to bump the Bruins to the brink, the preferable way is to do so with unwavering assertion. Even if they get away with subpar lead protection and take a 3-1 upper hand back to Boston, the Habs would squander conviction ahead of Game 5.
The other prospective outcome of a shoddy third period speaks for itself, as it did in Game 2. Bottom line: Montreal’s torch is for the pregame spectacle, not for juggling in an act of late-game drama.