Depth can be deadly. It’s trouble for the rest of the league if the Boston Bruins can still wrest control of a playoff series against their enemies without much from their frontline players. On Saturday, the Bruins did exactly that, grabbing a 3-2 series lead against the Canadiens as the third line of Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Matt Fraser combined for two goals and four assists in a 4-2 victory against Montreal in Game 5 in Boston. Tuukka Rask made 29 saves and Reilly Smith and Jarome Iginla added goals for the Bruins, who stayed on the Canadiens defense, especially Norris-Trophy-winner P.K. Subban, all night. The game marked the 900th meeting between the two teams, including both regular season and playoff games, and the 60-minute grind was worthy of the storied rivalry.
These are some thoughts from the game:
• The previous two games in Montreal had been remarkably civil anomalies between these two bitter foes, who combined for just five minor penalties in the previous 135 minutes of play. But Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien indicated that he wanted a little more physical play by benching Danny Briere, a veteran power-play ace, in favor of enforcer Brandon Prust, who played just 8:28 on the night. On the opening draw, Bruin pest Brad Marchand spun and then dumped Habs forward Brendan Gallagher before the drop of the puck. Though there were no fights in the game, there were 11 minors – six to Boston – and scrums and snarls throughout.
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• To get their first goal, the Bruins took advantage of a tired Canadiens group that was forced to stay on the ice for a faceoff in its own end following an icing. In particular, defensemen Douglas Murray and Alexei Emelin were a step slow as the Bruins moved the puck around after Soderberg won the draw. Emelin chased Eriksson behind the net and he fed Soderberg in the slot for his first career playoff goal, putting Boston up 1-0 in the first period.
• The Bruins had not scored a power-play goal in ten tries in the series, but Boston struck for a pair on consecutive power plays just 32 seconds apart early in the second period, as Tomas Plekanec was sent off twice. First Reilly Smith deflected a point shot from Dougie Hamilton to give Boston a 2-0 lead. It was Smith's third goal of the series, and the third straight Bruins goal in which Soderberg recorded an assist. The 28-year-old Swede can play. Soderberg was the leading goal scorer in the Swedish Elite League and is gradually playing a more expansive role with the Bruins. If his contributions increase, it gives an already strong team some more options when their more established big guns are having trouble.
After taking a penalty for bumping Rask with 17 seconds left in the first period, Plekanec stepped onto the ice and got zapped for high-sticking Johnny Boychuk. The Bruins needed only six seconds to make him pay for it. Jarome Iginla had just one point and a -2 rating in the series, but he ended his slump, taking a pass in the slot from Torey Krug and connecting to put Boston up by three. In fact, the power-play goals broke a playoff drought against Montreal that went back to 2009. That was 14 games and 38 power-play chances.
• The Bruins were in firm control of the game when Brad Marchand took an unnecessary roughing penalty in center ice, and Plekanec drove a shot that bounced through Rask at 14:39 of the second. Rask complained that Brendan Gallagher, the Canadiens’ forward who was perched on his doorstep, had hit his glove as he was reaching out to try to snare the puck. Gallagher got credit for making contact with the puck, instead, and his goal cut Boston's lead to 3-1 and ended Rask’s string of 122:06 without a goal allowed.
• Road teams can do well in certain playoff series, as both the Kings and Ducks have shown in their battle of California series. Yet Boston has a funny tendency to be able to take advantage of its home crowds later in a series. The Bruins lost their first game at home in the first two rounds this year, just as they did against the Canadiens and Lightning when they won a Stanley Cup three seasons ago. But Boston was clearly the more energetic team on Saturday. Bruins coach Claude Julien is very adept at making adjustments in the middle of games and the middle of series. Give some credit to GM Peter Chiarelli for that, too. Yes, bringing up Fraser has been a charmed move, but he has given any number of Bruins – Rask, Soderberg, Krug, Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski to name several – the speech about how their time would come. In each case it has. And because the Bruins can play either a skill or grind game due to the roster they have assembled, they have the flexibility to adapt to different demands during games.
• The Bruins kept up the distractions against Subban, as Marchand and Milan Lucic jostled him at every opportunity. Lucic was credited with a game-high seven hits for the game. Bartkowski took an extra liberty in throwing Subban to the ice and taking a sloppy penalty. Subban made him pay by drilling a 45-footer past Rask from the middle of the ice with the Habs on the power play. Subban had actually been jumping up and down calling for the puck before taking the pass from Max Pacioretty.
• If there was a detail that was good for Montreal and bad for Boston, it was the Habs’ power play, which was a key component of their opening-game victory and which connected twice on Saturday. Give credit to Subban for walking the line when his team is up a man, changing the geometry of Boston’s penalty kill and the look that Rask is able to get while trying to follow the puck. So if you’re Montreal, do you want a rough, penalty-filled game because your power play is producing, or would you rather avoid it because the Bruins love to play that type of game? The Canadiens have some people who do, too, but they are not really Montreal’s frontline guys, whereas many of the Bruins’ top players, Iginla, Lucic and Zdeno Chara, for instance, usually thrive in a physical game. And Marchand, who plays as if he’s 6’6”, doesn’t mind it, either.
• What’s more, the Bruins have directed their attentions at Subban and also at Carey Price’s glove hand, but if you’re the Canadiens, who is your target? There are too many Bruins pitching in, plugging and scoring as Boston teams do. That dilemma has tilted the series in Boston’s favor . . . for now.