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Saturday, May 10, 2014
Bruins watering down Habs' attack

By Craig Custance
ESPN The Magazine

BOSTON -- P.K. Subban couldn't say for sure who squirted him in the visor with water during the final minutes of Boston's 4-2 win over the Canadiens in Game 5. It could have been a Bruins player or, he joked, TV analyst Pierre McGuire from between the benches.

Two things though he was quite sure about.

It was definitely water impeding his vision and if he was the one doing the squirting, it's all people would be talking about the next few days.

"I knew it was water because it didn't stick. Some of it got on my face. Some of it got in my visor. Maybe at that point, I was a little bit heated because we're losing the game, trying to score," Subban said after the game of the squirt aimed at him from the bench by the Bruins' Shawn Thornton. "I don't know if it's part of the game. I'm sure if that was me that did it, it would be a different story. It would probably be on the news for the next three days. I don't expect that to be a story. Listen, whatever it takes to win, right?"

Or at least cause a distraction. In a way, this essentially meaningless incident that Subban tried to downplay ("Listen, they beat us. That's not the reason why we lost today," he said.) while elaborating on his version of the story ("Somebody squirted water twice at the end of the game there. Hit me in the visor. I couldn't even see the last minute and a half out there.") provided some nice cover for the Canadiens.

It was the dominant topic of discussion for Subban following the game, rather than the reality of the Canadiens' worsening situation. (Thornton was not made available by the Bruins after the game.)

That 2-1 series lead that really should have been a 3-0 series lead? That's wiped out. Gone. The opportunity to bury the favored Bruins now a distant memory.

Instead, Matt Fraser scores the frozen yogurt goal in Game 4. The Bruins power play awakens in Game 5, mix in a strong performance from Boston's third line and now the Canadiens are one loss away from summer vacation.

It's an amazing turn of events from a series that was so close to tilting heavily in the Canadiens favor.

After a slow start, the Bruins machine is starting to churn. Their forward depth is capitalizing on the lack thereof on the Canadiens defense, and they've tightened up their own defensive play. This is the Bruins team that everybody expected from the outset.

"If we didn't tighten up, soon we knew it would be a different situation coming to Boston," said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. "Both teams played well last game. It was 0-0 for the whole game, nobody made too many mistakes and it was a lucky bounce. We didn't want to come back [down] 3-1 to Boston. Instead, now we're going to Montreal 3-2."

P.K. Subban, Eric Furlatt, Brad Marchand
P.K. Subban was hot after getting squirted with water by Shawn Thornton.

The Bruins have shown their resilience during this series, pulling ahead without the usual production from David Krejci. They've pulled ahead despite Tuukka Rask being outplayed for stretches by Carey Price. They've done it even though Subban has been the defenseman having the most impact all over the ice.

Now, we find out what kind of resilience this Canadiens team has. Is this the start of a Bruins runaway train with Montreal's best shot at eliminating its rival completely vanished or is the counterpunch coming in Montreal?

In between answering questions about the great water-squirting incident, Subban showed no signs of concern about the turn this series has taken.

"We've got to bring it. Facing elimination? Listen, I still think we're in a good spot. We're going back home. That's the barn. You know it's going to be loud. You know it's going to be full of energy," Subban said. "We're going to be ready to play, that's for sure. This one stings a little bit. We had an opportunity to take a stranglehold on the series and we didn't. We have to give them credit."

For the most part, this series has been played above board. That started to shift in Game 5, which might have been the chippiest one yet. Subban and Milan Lucic had a pretty good battle in the corner during the second period, a battle in which Subban was trying to goad Lucic into a bad penalty.

Lucic didn't bite. He did, however, take a moment to flex his biceps at Subban as the Canadiens defenseman skated by the Bruins bench.

And then, of course, there was the water.

All of this before either of these teams have reached its point of desperation that's coming in the next game or two. It's heating up for a great finish, just the way this series should.

"We're facing elimination now, so we have to get even that much dirtier," Subban said. "The fun thing is, the good thing is, I know we can play better. It's not like we have played our best hockey yet. I still think we have more to give and I think we're going to give a little bit more and we'll be there."