Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens Game 6: Keys for Each Team
The Boston Bruins proved Saturday that they are capable of taking and keeping a lead in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. For the first time the 2014 NHL Atlantic Division final, they scored first and never gave up an equalizer, pacing themselves to a 4-2 victory.
With that Game 5 triumph, the top-seeded Bruins have their first lead of the series with a 3-2 edge. Their next challenge will be to retain that lead and dislodge the Habs from the playoff bracket Monday night.
Montreal, however, technically has yet to trail on home ice in this postseason. The only time the Canadiens have fallen behind at the Bell Centre in the last month was this past Thursday. That was when Boston’s Matt Fraser scored in overtime, meaning there was no chance to tie the score after conceding the initial lead.
Can the Bruins smuggle their momentum across the border or will the Habs spin their symbiotic cycle with their home masses?
Here are three keys for each team to ensure their half of that question comes to fruition.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report are courtesy of nhl.com
Key for Boston: Top 6 Revival
Milan Lucic, whose seven-year NHL career in Boston has coincided with Claude Julien’s franchise-transforming coaching tenure, arguably uses the phrase “killer instinct” more often than any of his allies.
Monday night will be Lucic’s fifth potential closeout against the Canadiens. He previously joined the Bruins in losing Game 7 in 2008, finishing a sweep in 2009, missing their first chance in 2011 and then winning that series the next night.
The same can be said about Lucic’s center, David Krejci, another seventh-year NHL mainstay. Two other top-six forwards, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, were on the 2011 team that let the Habs draw a 3-3 series deadlock at the Bell Centre.
Naturally, these prime offensive suspects are also holdovers from last year’s team that got away with torch-juggling against Toronto. Every time the Bruins have a chance to polish off a series, they need to refresh the notion that they have learned from those 2011 and 2013 scares.
For the likes of Lucic, there is no more effective way of doing that than leaving a direct imprint on the closeout clash.
To date, he has been mildly muffled in this series. His only goal was an empty-netter and one of his two assists came in a vain, belated rally in Game 3.
Both of Boston’s top two lines have failed to produce in the last two games, save for Jarome Iginla and Reilly Smith’s power-play conversions.
The power-play perk up is a welcome development for New England puckheads. But the sooner Krejci, Lucic and Marchand, in particular, follow suit in cracking their chrysalis, the better their team’s odds on Monday.
Key for Montreal: The First Goal
There is no sense in trying to elude this notion. This is an elimination game, therefore time to establish self-assurance is at a premium.
As such, the first tangible token of momentum is as crucial for the team trying to extend the series as it is for the team trying to end it. Maybe even more so.
As it happens, both teams enter Monday’s action 5-0 when scoring first this postseason. The last two bouts at the Bell Centre served as telling slivers of what can happen when the Habs heat up early and when they stall.
In Game 3, the Canadiens charged up a 2-0 advantage late in the first period and paced themselves to a 4-2 triumph. Two nights later, the Bruins constantly cut the vocal cords of the Montreal crowd before burying the game’s only goal in overtime.
Regardless of venue, Montreal is 2-0 in this series and 5-0 overall in these playoffs when it tunes the mesh in the first period. If it can do that again on Monday, it should invigorate the home masses with more punch than in any previous opening from the past month.
By gripping the upper hand and inciting their rooters, the Habs also have a better chance of jumbling Boston’s focus. That could go a long way toward not only forcing Game 7, but percolating dense momentum in advance of that deciding tilt.
Key for Boston: Blossoming Blueliners
Assuming Julien uses the same lineup, all four of Boston’s first- and second-year NHL defensemen will dress Monday. That would mean leaning on Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller to help repress the Habs in their win-or-hit-the-links drive.
The fact that two-thirds of the Bruins blue-line brigade is so young and inexperienced posed no hindrance on Saturday. After all, they were just as effective as Johnny Boychuk and Zdeno Chara in silencing Montreal at even strength.
Boston’s green blueliners played like they belonged while nudging their rivals to the precipice of elimination on home ice. That is, if you factor out the interference penalty Hamilton incurred two holding minors Bartkowski took.
For that matter, the same held true in their Game 4 victory, when they held the Habs scoreless until Fraser’s sudden-death strike. Apart from yet another holding call against Bartkowski that night, everybody was available to perform when asked and delivered.
They will need to make sure the transition to hostile scenery does not cleave their confidence in the closeout contest.
Key for Montreal: Stifling Soderberg
Bruins' third-line center Carl Soderberg was raring to smash through the surface for the better part of this series. He did that in Game 5 with a goal and two assists, swelling his series output to a point per game.
For what it’s worth, Boston’s three wins over the Habs have come when Soderberg has contributed. Two of his four assists and his lone goal have combined to constitute the three icebreakers in the Bruins’ victories.
Conversely, Montreal’s two wins have come when it has kept the competitive Swede off the scoresheet.
In the wake of Game 5, the Bruins are flaunting a critical advantage in offensive depth. The Canadiens can try to counter that with their own lower-six strikers as one solution. But they also need to curtail the Soderberg-anchored troika while on defense.
If Boston cannot click with its aforementioned top-six key, Montreal would amplify its odds of reversing the momentum in the series by solving Soderberg.
Key for Boston: Discipline
As obvious and dragged out as this point may appear, it juts out in the climactic phases of the series.
If one or both of the first two Montreal keys come to fruition, Boston’s discipline can curtail the resultant impact. It can also preempt the first key, in particular, and will need to if the Bruins want a smooth path to victory.
On each of the past two Saturdays, the Bruins have given their home audience a couple of cautionary tales. Despite winning Games 2 and 5, they granted the Canadiens life by taking penalties after they took the initial lead.
In Game 2, Montreal drew a 1-1 knot at even strength and then nabbed a 3-1 advantage by virtue of back-to-back power-play conversions. In Game 5, the Bruins held a pair of three-goal leads, only to invite Montreal’s man advantage to whittle those leads down to two.
Granted, over the previous two bouts at the Bell Centre, Boston garnered an aggregate three power plays while serving two penalties itself. However, there is no cause to bank on that leniency recurring for the series’ final installment in Montreal’s mansion.
If every Bruins skater exercises poise and prudence in front of goaltender Tuukka Rask, they will force the Habs to toil for change.
Speaking of which…
Key for Montreal: 5-on-5 Productivity
Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien did not need to say much on this topic. Recent trends have done enough speaking to explain the situation.
Per NHL.com managing editor Arpon Basu, the bench boss bluntly stated: “We have to be better five-on-five” in the wake of Saturday’s loss.
Discounting empty netters, the Canadiens have failed to bury an even-strength goal since the second period of Game 3. That includes all 46 minutes and 30 seconds of five-on-five action in Game 5. Ditto all 55:19 of even strength in Game 4’s 1-0 overtime decision.
The last time Rask blinked during mutual full strength was on a Dale Weise breakaway. That is a development you are not likely to witness again given that Weise has played less than 15 minutes each night this series.
As such, Montreal’s top strikers need to flaunt more firepower as they strive to save their season.
Thomas Vanek, in particular, needs to resume justifying his trade deadline import from Long Island. His only points in this series have been a pair of power-play tip-ins in Game 2 and one even-strength helper in Game 3.
Depth and special teams are a common X-factor, to be sure. They still could be for the balance of this series.
But the fact is the Habs are trailing, in part, because two power-play conversions were insufficient in Games 2 and 5. Their other loss in the series came when all things offense, including one power-play segment, failed to click.