By Brian Cazeneuve
The Boston Bruins have been through these wars before. It is almost as if there should be a scar -- the kind a warrior likes to show off to confirm his valor -- sown onto the spoked B of the team’s logo. On Saturday, the Bruins fought back from a 3-1 deficit, outworking and overwhelming the Montreal Canadiens while scoring four times in the third period to earn a 5-3 victory and an even series as the teams head to Montreal. In so doing, the Bruins overcame another strong effort from Habs defenseman P.K. Subban, the sturdy backliner who has become a focal point on and off the ice.
In the clubs’ 34th meeting in playoff history, this series – with Montreal’s double-overtime win in Game 1 and Boston’s comeback in Game 2 – is already adding pages the the history book.
Here are some observations about Subban and Boston’s rally:
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● Kudos to the Bruins -- and failed marks to some Boston fans -- for the racist tweets about Subban between games that sparked outrage from several circles. Perhaps the most vocal were the Bruins, themselves. Club President Cam Neely called the tweets “classless” and said they came from an “ignorant group of individuals.” P.K.’s brother, Malcolm, is a goalie in the Bruins organization.
MUIR: Neely assails racist tweets
● Subban’s superb, energetic play makes him a focus for any opposing team. The 2013 Norris Trophy-winner was exceptional in Game 1, when he scored the game’s first goal and the winner in double overtime. During the first period on Saturday, he suffered a hand injury and left the bench for a time, but when he returned, Boston paid extra attention to him on the power play, aggressively marking his lane while allowing more space to Montreal’s other man at the point, Andrei Markov. Even so, the B's couldn't keep a lid on Subban all day. He fired two shots that were tipped in for scores by winger Thomas Vanek -- the first at 18:09 of the first period; the second at 6:30 of the third, giving Montreal a 3-1 lead it would ultimately blow.
● After Boston jumped in front early on a goal by Daniel Paille, the Canadiens tied the score a minute into the second period after a bad turnover by Bruins uberpest Brad Marchand at center ice. The usually spunky forward was skating leisurely out of his zone after a long shift. As he casually carried the puck on his forehand, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher swiped it off his stick, tapped it forward and started the rush back up the ice. After a scramble near the crease left a swarm of players in front of Tuukka Rask, Boston's goalie wasn’t able to set himself for the blast from Mike Weaver that beat him on the long side to make it 1-1.
● It took a while for Zdeno Chara, Boston’s towering workhorse defenseman, to tire during last season’s playoffs. It wasn’t until Game 5 against the Blackhawks when he showed signs of wear and not being able to keep pace with the action. Has the 37-year-old Bruins captain already hit his tipping point ? Chara had a chance to clear the puck out of his zone on Montreal’s second goal. He had space to take an extra step before sailing a backhand clear to his own blue line, but tried to elevate the puck from his standing position and had it picked off. Five seconds later, Subban sent a half-shot in the direction of Vanek who was darting through the crease after getting strong position on...Chara. Vanek’s tip put the Habs in front, 2-1.
● Subban broke one of the game’s unwritten rules at the start of the third period, when he went low bridge on Shawn Thornton. The Boston enforcer was zeroing in on the Montreal defenseman when Subban ducked the hit, forcing Thornton to bang his knee into the defender's back. Thornton is as durable as they come, but he crumpled almost immediately and was later helped off the ice. As he was skating off, he was yapping in anger over his shoulder. He returned later in the period for one shift, but played just 3:42 during the contest, much less than usual.
● Down a pair midway through the period, the Bruins pressed the attack and evened the score on goals by Dougie Hamilton at 10:56 and Bergeron at 14:17. Bergeron’s skipping shot, from the right half-wall, was like a grounder hitting a pebble and eating up a shortstop who was expecting an easy hop, and it fooled Canadiens goalie Carey Price. It was as good as any deflection that the Bruins could have drawn up on a chalkboard. Sure, it was lucky, but the B's have been known to come from behind with a fortuitous break in their favor. Hard work creates luck. In this case, the Bruins pinched along the wall to force the Habs into a quick clear, otherwise Montreal would have had an easy out. These are the same Bruins who lost Game 1 to Detroit in the first round and then banged the Red Wings around in the next contest. They got some bounces in that game, too, but they earned them.
● The Bruins took the lead when winger Reilly Smith did his job well at both ends of the ice with a superb backcheck against Gallagher, who was zooming up the left side of the ice, and then finishing the play by converting a pass from Torey Krug from the right dot. A look at the replay shows just how hard Boston worked to get that goal before Smith converted. The Bruins pinched on both sides of the ice to make the play possible. Bergeron and Marchand worked the front of the net to create traffic and occupy Montreal’s defense, with Subban knocking Marchand to the ice just as Smith let his shot go to put Boston in front for good.
● There isn’t much substitute for extra effort. At times it seems that Boston needs a kick in the tail to jump-start its push in a series. During their Stanley Cup season of 2011, the Bruins dropped the first game three times and the first two twice. They also rallied to win Game 7 of their first round series vs. Toronto last year after falling behind 4-1 in the third period. They bring an uncommon combination of skill and grit from nearly every line and defense pairing, and that will make them hard to finish off.