Following a game 3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night at the rockin’ Bell Centre, the Boston Bruins head shifts to Thursday night. A night where they can ill afford to drop Game 4, when they get their second crack at the Habs on their home soil.
A worse-case scenario 3-1 series deficit is not insurmountable by any means – especially for arguably the best comeback team in the league – however it remains an undesirable position no doubt. If recent history is any indication, the Bruins stress levels should actually be relatively low. They have come back from a 2-0 deficit at the hands of the Canadiens back in 2011 en route to the Stanley Cup, as well as coming out of a 3-1 hole last season to those Leafs (smile/giggle). If anyone relishes this role in the NHL, it’s this group of Bruins. But no one realistically plans to lose games and wants to continually chase from the rear. You want to be ahead setting the pace and making your opponent play the desperate high-risk hockey outside their comfort zone.
A win on Thursday night puts the Bruins in a favourable position, hypothetically tying the series at 2-2 and would send it back to the Garden with a Boston win there taking the Canadiens to the brink of elimination. Things are going to need to change however for the B’s to do that. Here are a couple factors Claude Julien’s squad needs to improve upon in my eyes to gain back momentum in this best-of-seven series and give themselves the best shot at winning on Thursday.
Tuukka Rask hasn’t been bad in these playoffs by any stretch of the imagination. He just hasn’t been as good as his counterpart, who couldn’t be receiving more praise as of this moment for his play. As every hockey fan knows, goaltending has the ability to make or break a playoff run. Carey Price has been playing exceptional for the Habs and his .920 save percentage still doesn’t give enough justice. The quality of saves has been through the roof and his efforts stole Game 1 and nearly did the same in Game 2 until a third-period meltdown.
On the other side, Rask has been average at best for the Bruins (.886 SV %) and hasn’t come up with those timely saves we’ve come to expect from the Vezina trophy candidate. This matchup between netminders was billed as a key indicator of who would come out on top in this exciting series, and so far Price is taking the cake. For Boston to win Game 4 (and this series) The Finn needs to be at that Vezina level, something we all know he has the ability to do.
All season long the Bruins maintained the innate ability to deploy scoring in waves from all areas of their line-up. So when I point out Brad Marchand, Carl Soderberg, David Krejci, and Loui Eriksson have a combined one goal (Eriksson) in these playoffs, it comes as a surprise. Three defencemen on the Bruins have two goals each (Krug, Chara, Hamilton). The back-end contributions are nice but it’s tough to rely on. Depth wins you games, especially in the playoffs when games tend to clamp down and space becomes harder and harder to come by.
Secondary sources of offence need to step their game up, most notably the likes of Krejci and Marchand. These are proven playoff performers logging significant minutes, and although their two way games are helpful, so is putting the puck in the net. Boston needs them producing to move forward.
7-2. That is the number the Canadiens have outscored the Bruins by in the first two periods of games 1-3, featuring a 2-0 lead in each as well. But then there is the third-period that reads the exact opposite at 9-3 Boston. Starting games off slow has been the Achilles heel of the B’s thus far this series, forcing them to play desperate high-risk hockey more often than not.
Although the Bruins execute this type of hockey better than most if not all, it’s not an ideal meal that you want on your plate game after game. The third periods have been great, but coming out focused and prepared for the first 40 minutes is just as important as the last 20. Contrary to the theme of this year’s playoffs, playing with the lead is always the position you want to be in because the onus is not on you to do anything more than effectively hold a lead. If the Bruins can shore up their defensive transition game and start games the way they’ve been finishing, I find it hard not liking their chances.
We’ll see what adjustments Boston makes when Game 4 goes Thursday night in Montreal at 7:30 PM. ET.