Bruins can't get distracted with Leafs' chess game

Bruins can't get distracted with Leafs' chess game
May 6, 2013, 3:15 pm
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Kevin Paul Dupont expects Zdeno Chara to be paired up with Dennis Seidenberg against the Penguins.

(AP Images)

TORONTO -- The grandmaster chess game continues for the Bruins and Leafs as they head into Game 3 at the Air Canada Centre, and it's a game that hasn't always played out so well for the Bruins.

The Black and Gold made a few moves that hurt the club in a big way during Toronto’s 4-2 win over the Bruins in Game 2 at TD Garden. The biggest was splitting up Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg when Andrew Ference was suspended. The reason? The Bruins didn’t want any of their defensemen to be playing on their “off” side once 19-year-old rookie Dougie Hamilton was introduced to the lineup.

That resulted in a Seidenberg/Johnny Boychuk pairing that was badly exploited by Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel among others in Game 2. It also had the unintended side effect of a lack of quality shifts for Boston's fourth line, which was dominant in Game 1.

Claude Julien wouldn’t commit to a full reunion for Chara and Seidenberg in Game 3, saying rather cryptically: “We may or may not at times. It's a matter of adjusting as the game goes along.”

Well, that’s an adjustment the Bruins need to make. It should be mandatory to have Chara and Seidenberg together, as it’s been in the last three years for the Bruins in the playoffs. They B's also need to make certain Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille are all on the ice for meaningful energy minutes in what should be an electric atmosphere in Toronto’s playoff-starved home arena.

“It seems like they’ve really found their groove late in the season,” said Julien of his fourth line. “They’re putting pucks in deep, they fore-check well, they’re not afraid to throw pucks at the net, they get to the front and they create a lot of energy and scoring opportunities.

“When you look at Paille he’s scored some big goals for us, Campbell is having a good year and Thornton just does his job. Obviously we’re two teams that like to have some toughness, but it has to be some toughness that can also play. That’s what we have [in our fourth line].”

When Thornton dropped the gloves with Mark Fraser at the end of Game 2 it seemed to be a statement about the Boston freight train that was coming to the ACC on Monday night. It was also a reminder to the Bruins coaching staff not to forget about its fourth line.

“For us we take a lot of pride when we get a chance to play against top lines, and we want to continue that in the playoffs,” said Paille. “It’s something we get a chance to do quite a bit during the regular season.”

It’s easy to leave some forward lines by the wayside once hockey coaches start engaging in the back-and-forth game of match-ups on the ice, but forgetting about Boston’s fourth line would be a mistake.

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle played the game, too. He intermittently switched out Phil Kessel and Matt Frattin on their respective lines to get No. 81 on the ice without Chara breathing down his neck. That coaching strategy helped deliver a Kessel breakaway goal for the game-winner in the third period when he got behind Boychuk and Seidenberg for a free wrist shot on Tuukka Rask.

Carlyle downplayed the importance of the last change at home and getting Kessel away from Chara in certain match-ups. The coach predicted there will be adjustments on both sides. It would be surprising, however, if the Leafs coaching staff can get Kessel out on the ice for four minutes of even-strength play again, as they did in Saturday night’s victory.

“There has been a lot of things being said about Kessel and Chara. Phil scored a goal the other night the way he knows how to,” said Julien. “It wasn’t because Chara wasn’t on the ice, but it was because we had a parting of the Red Sea on ‘D’ there.

“That’s what we have to look at. We don’t have the last change, but we certainly feel confident about the ‘D’ that we have out there. Maybe Chara will be out there against him, and maybe not. This is a Leafs team that we’re playing. This is not a Kessel team. There are some good players on that team that we have to look after rather than just Phil.”

The bottom line message from Julien is right on: The Bruins simply need to play better defense if they hope to win playoff games against an offense-heavy Leafs squad.

Carlyle probably won’t have to switch out Frattin and Kessel as much as he did in Boston, but the Bruins coaching staff will need to be on their toes ready to adjust to what the Leafs start throwing at them.

“There was a lot of reporting that [Kessel] managed to play four minutes without facing Chara,” said Carlyle. “The situations and circumstances from that game will be different than this game. You can’t duplicate what happened in Boston on Saturday night versus Monday night. You’d be very foolish to think so.

“We know that Chara is going to be on the ice for every defensive zone face-off. Does that mean that Phil Kessel will be in the offensive zones for face-offs? Maybe some he will and some he won’t. It all depends on the ebbs and flows of the game.”

The Bruins have won a lot of hockey games over the last six seasons by playing tight defense through all of their pairings, rolling four lines that are all capable of doing the job defensively and playing team hockey with no real superstars in their lineup.

That is the Big Bad Bruins formula for success.

Some of that is lost when the B’s get lured into a game of match-ups so it’s important for the Bruins to play to their strengths and dictate action as they did in Game 1.

That is the path to victory for a Black and Gold team that is in a very winnable series against the Maple Leafs, which should really start to hit its stride now that the action has turned to the First City of Hockey in Toronto.