B's handle Habs, put worries to rest
BOSTON -- You are an angst-ridden Bruins fan and you had concerns.
So many concerns.
As your team faced off in a pivotal Game 5, you wrung your hands and wondered aloud about a litany of issues: the curious inability of the Carl Soderberg--Loui Eriksson duo to find the back of the net, the gnawing feeling that Carey Price, not Tuukka Rask, was playing as though he had Vezina in his veins, that Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban was the most prolific player in this series and, simultaneously, the most agitating and most agitated guy on the ice.
And then there was the dearth of Bruins power-play goals. Boston hadn't scored one in the postseason against the Montreal Canadiens in five seasons.
Your favorite son, your rock on defense, the redoubtable Zdeno Chara, had looked, well ... kinda slow, not quite the Norris candidate who has rocked the plus-minus hockey world for eons. Subban's offensive forays were overshadowing Boston's captain, and that was just excruciating to consider.
The Bruins who dominated the regular season had simply not fully revealed themselves in this series, and you were wondering when (if) they would.
"We got a little bit away from some of the things that brought success early in the year," Bruins forward Reilly Smith admitted.
But now, Game 5 has come and gone. You are an elated Bruins fan, and you couldn't have scripted it better.
"We did everything we wanted to," Rask declared in the wake of a resounding 4-2 Bruins victory.
It started, Eriksson explaned, by concentrating on better offensive spacing, sharper passing and more aggressive play. That meant hitting more, sharing the puck and creating higher percentage chances.
"We had some room [to work with] tonight," Eriksson said. "It's something we need to build on."
It was Eriksson who helped carve out some of that space with a nifty backhand pass onto Soderberg's stick in the first period, enabling Boston to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
Yet Boston was 0-for-2 on the power play, and that irked coach Claude Julien, who informed his charges they looked "average."
"We had a little chat," the coach revealed, "about bringing the intensity up on the power play and winning more battles."
His players listened, then responded.
In doing so, they broke open the game and seized command of the series.
Just 1:04 into the second period, with the Bruins enjoying a residual man advantage after Tomas Plekanec plowed into Rask in the crease late in the first, Smith halted the 0-for-39 playoff power-play futility against the Habs with a shot that dribbled between Price's pads.
A mere 35 seconds later, Boston scored again -- also on a power play -- with Plekanec the repeat offender, this time on a high-sticking call.
Jarome Iginla did the honors on a glorious cross-ice pass from Torey Krug, who got the puck when Chara dug it out of the corner for him. Just like that, the Bruins were rolling, their 3-0 lead feeling every bit as insurmountable as it looked.
"Their power-play gave them a lot of momentum and confidence," Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. "That's the way I see it."
Here's how Boston sees it. The Bruins hadn't played their best in this series, not even close. But Saturday night, they rediscovered their mojo, their preferred style of play and their rhythm. They outhit Montreal 39-29. They beat them in faceoffs 36-31. They played smarter, better and more consistently.
"I think everyone who follows our team noted that we seemed more in control," Julien said. "We put the puck in the right area. We seemed to be in sync."
Soderberg and Eriksson as productive scorers? Check. Rask reseeding himself as the superior goaltender? Check. (The two goals Tuukka relinquished were both on the power play). The impotent Boston power play? Old news.
Ah, but there's still the matter of P.K. Subban. With his team trailing, the bruising defenseman did his level best to goad Milan Lucic into a foolish penalty. Lucic certainly considered it, but, instead of taking the bait, he backed off, skated to the bench, then flexed his muscles Subban's way. The war of words between the two continued well into the third period.
"Well, it's just a battle, right?" Lucic said.
"I have nothing bad to say about him," Subban insisted. "He plays the game hard."
Subban succeeded in drawing a late-game penalty on Matt Bartkowski, then unleashed his fury and frustration on the ensuing power play, peppering Rask with blistering scoring chances from the point. With 2:29 left in the game, one of his missiles found the back of the net.
The message was clear: He's not done wreaking havoc on the boys in the spoked-B sweaters.
In the final minutes, Subban claimed, someone from the Boston bench squirted him with water.
"Hit me in the visor," Subban reported. "I couldn't even see the last minute and a half out there. I was pretty upset about that. It's part of the game."
He was pressed on whether he truly believed that.
"I'm sure if that was me that did it, would be a different story," Subban answered. "It would probably be on the news for the next three days."
The angst-ridden Boston fans can sense new concerns sprouting to the surface. The Bruins are one win away from advancing, but the Bell Centre is waiting. Subban and Price and Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher and all those other Canadiens you abhor (and -- admit it -- fear) will be fighting for their playoff lives.
Subban is mad. So is Therrien. If the Bruins are peaking at just the right time, it shouldn't matter.
"I don't believe in peaks," said Soderberg, the No. 1 star of Game 5. "I believe if you work hard every game, it creates peaks."
The Bruins are one win away from advancing, but Julien went out of his way to note, "I'm being honest here -- we know it's not going to be easy."
Of course not. For Bruins fans, it never is.
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