Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins Game 5: Keys for Each Team
Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien has a 1-0 lifetime record in postseason Game 5s against the Boston Bruins. He guided another group of Habs to a series tiebreaker at what was then known as the FleetCenter during a previous stint in 2002.
Something will have to give Saturday at the TD Garden, where one rival will nudge the other to the brink of elimination.
The Bruins restored home-ice advantage with Thursday’s 1-0 overtime win north of the border but have yet to lead this series. The Canadiens have yet to trail any series in the 2014 NHL playoffs and hold identical 3-1 home and road records.
With the best-of-seven Atlantic Division Final reduced to a virtual best-of-three series, here are three items to watch for from each party.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com
Key for Montreal: Crowd Control
Although Boston pulled off a pivotal win on Thursday, claiming a 1-0 decision in overtime technically means never leading during the game. Only at the moment when the game ends.
In turn, the fact remains that the Bruins have harbored a lead for a cumulative 11 minutes and 39 seconds in this series. That was all in Game 2, when they held a 1-0 edge for 8:07 and then nabbed a permanent lead with 3:32 left in regulation.
For the rest of the first two tilts, the Canadiens made a general nonfactor of the TD Garden congregation. Until Game 2’s third-period collapse, that perpetuated a cycle of dictating the terms of the scoreboard and the atmosphere.
More of the same will be in order Saturday, when Montreal looks to set itself up for a potential series clincher back home on Monday.
Key for Boston: Tuukka Time
Has any Bruins backstop ever achieved a hollow shutout in Montreal’s mansion? If so, Tuukka Rask’s role in that Game 4 does not fit in anywhere near the vicinity of that category.
Rask entered Game 4 on the heels of allowing no fewer than three goals and posting sub-.900 save percentages in his previous three ventures. He exited with a 33-save gem and a 2-2 deadlock for his team to take back home.
After being the decidedly inferior goaltender for the first half of the series, Rask has a chance to render that wretched stretch irrelevant. To do that, he needs to carry over the confidence he earned from the eventual game-preservers he made on Thursday.
Just consider the contrast in comments following the previous Thursday night overtime battle from the ones that followed the latest Thursday night overtime battle.
After Game 1, Rask did not mince words about himself when addressing the New England hockey press corps. During the two-minute conference, one reporter even started a question by telling the goalie, “It’s been a long time since you’ve been this hard on yourself.”
Following Game 4, Rask was more levelheaded, as any competitor should be in any situation. Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com quoted Rask as follows: “I always just try to play my game, and hopefully it’s good enough to get the win. Tonight I was able to get the shutout. I don’t know. I guess it’s good to get this here.”
The stench from Game 1 carried on for two more games. Now is Rask’s chance to make sure the aroma from Game 4 extends for the same span.
Key for Montreal: Maxing Out
Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens’ top scorer three years running, has one point (a Game 2 assist) through four games in this series. To compound his ineffectiveness, he is an uncharacteristic minus-two.
Nine of Pacioretty’s teammates have exceeded his output against the Bruins. His usual first-line associates, Tomas Plekanec and Thomas Vanek, have combined for six points, including three on the power play. But he has not even been on the ice for some of those scoring plays.
Blend that with the rest of the variables, and the collective contributions have been good enough for 2-2 split. But with that split, Game 5 is one of those times to elicit the cliche about a team’s best players needing to be the team’s best players.
It will not be as easy for Pacioretty to thaw out on Saturday due to a lack of the last change on the road. By the same token, it would be all the more rewarding and momentous for Montreal if he does reawaken.
Key for Boston: Krejci Comeback
Fittingly enough, the 2-2 knot in this best-of-seven series is also casting light on a leaned-on Boston striker who has been conspicuous by his futility.
Primal playmaker David Krejci led the Bruins with 50 helpers and 69 points in the 2013-14 regular season. He has twice led the league in playoff production with 17 assists and 26 points in 2013 and 12 goals and 23 points in 2011.
Where has that Krejci been through the first nine games of this spring? All he has on his 2014 tournament transcript are three assists, including two on empty-netters.
Like Pacioretty, Boston’s regular-season scoring leader has but one assist and a minus-two rating in the current series.
Unlike Pacioretty, Krejci will be on the team with the privilege of the last change during stoppages in Game 5. In turn, Julien can try to have his top forwards circumvent Montreal’s tougher defenders as he sees fit.
The sooner one of these players shakes off his slump, preferably before the other one does, the better his team’s chances. Besides the basic statistical favor, it would be a morale booster for either team to see its prime suspect restore normalcy.
Key for Montreal: Creating and Finding Openings
By now, the freshest sample is vast and varied enough to verify when the Canadiens are at their best in this matchup. That is the case when they force the Bruins to resort to risking penalties.
Either that or outright forcing Boston to fall back on Rask as their last hope of preventing a goal.
There have been stretches in the last two contests where that aspect of Montreal’s game has fled. The Bruins managed to muddy up the Habs’ half of the ice and complicate clearances, let alone counterattacks.
As an early result in Game 3, the host club iced and gave the puck away four times apiece within the first eight minutes. In Game 4, the Canadiens committed six of the first eight icing infractions within the first 16:57 of play.
Those sequences had no immediate repercussions. Montreal ultimately broke through and opened up a 3-0 lead in Game 3, subsisting long enough for a 4-2 final. It cultivated its share of chances amidst a classic goaltenders’ duel on Thursday, which took bonus action to decide.
With that being said, the 1-0 loss in the latter match makes one wonder what might have been if the Canadiens issued a more assertive start. They could have raised the upper hand early and stamped a regulation win for a commanding 3-1 cushion in the series.
With the implications tightening and another change in venue, they cannot afford to stall like that again. The last thing they need to start Game 5 is a fresher five-set of legs smothering them in front of 17,565 hostile observers.
Key for Boston: Poise and Precision
CBS Boston scribe Michael Hurley was apt to observe the following with 10:30 to spare in regulation Thursday night: “Reilly Smith, off the crossbar. That’s the ninth or 10th post the Bruins have hit this series.”
Hurley was hardly exaggerating. Another Bruins beat reporter, Dan Cagen of the MetroWest Daily News, noted on Twitter that Boston shooters had hit the post at least three times in Thursday’s action alone.
If only that were a formal statistic. It would glare with more emphasis if that were the case.
The pandemic of pipe-ringing pucks is too great to not carry any meaning. It hints at haste and a little excess desperation on Boston’s part. It speaks to the general effectiveness of Carey Price’s goaltending and the way his skating mates have performed in front of him.
The Bruins need to clear that hurdle by manufacturing a little more poise to achieve that missing sliver of precision.
Had they done that earlier in the series, they could have spared themselves overtime in Game 4. They could have forced overtime in Game 3 instead of giving the Habs a chance to feed their empty net to cement the 4-2 final. Or they could have hit the board before the initial deficit swelled to 3-0.
The longer they take to break this trend, the muddier their path to a 3-2 lead in the series, let alone two wins out of the next two or three games.