MONTREAL – It’s a point blank fact the Boston Bruins weren’t ready to play when Game 3 of their second round series started against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
It’s something the players and head coach readily admitted after the game was over, and it was stunningly obvious to anybody watching the opening period in front of a lathered up Habs-friendly crowd.
The roof was already set to blow off the Bell Centre when French-Canadian chanteuse Ginette Reno sang the Canadian national anthem, but the Bruins’ halfhearted, flatfooted defense provided the needed ingredient – instant offense – in order to make that happen.
“In the first 20 minutes we’ve got to be better. We lost people in coverage, and we gave them easy goals,” said Zdeno Chara. “We came back and made a game of it, but it’s something where we need to be almost perfect [after the bad starts].”
The Bruins were far from perfect in the closing 40 minutes of the game, and they were dreadfully absent in the opening 20 minutes.
“They were at home, and they played a really good first period. We weren’t as good as we should have been,” said Jarome Iginla. “We’re better than that, and we know that. We need to be better than that.”
Perhaps there was no greater example of Boston’s oblivious, distracted start to the game than the sequence that started with P.K. Subban blowing up Reilly Smith with a good hit that landed him in the penalty box for roughing.
The Bruins were already down 1-0 on a shared blown defensive assignment by Kevan Miller and Jarome Iginla that gave Tomas Plekanec a wide open backdoor chance, and they followed that up with a sloppy, gross power play possession. To make matters demonstrably worse, the Bruins completely fell asleep when the dangerous Subban jumped out of the penalty box.
Tuukka Rask never slammed his stick to the ice to let his power play know things were back to even strength, and nobody on the Bruins bench was yelling “5-on-5” as Subban hopped onto the ice.
“It was part of my job to let them know [with a stick slam], and I thought they had it under control,” said Rask. “I decided not to, but then it ends up in the net.”
So Dougie Hamilton wasn’t fully aware of the situation, and moved across the ice to help Patrice Bergeron stop Lars Eller at the blue line while opening up an unobstructed lane to the net for Subban.
A few seconds later Eller connected with Subban, and the Canadiens defenseman had his third goal and sixth point of the three-game playoff series against the Bruins that he has thoroughly dominated. The Subban breakaway goal gave the Habs a 2-0 lead, and once again pushed the Bruins into a very uncomfortable chase mode for the rest of the game.
It was exacerbated in the second period when Andrej Meszaros and Johnny Boychuk were caught flatfooted, and fourth line winger Dale Weise was able to sting the Bruins with a breakaway that turned into the game-winning goal.
The Bruins are clearly capable of third-period comebacks as they showed with four goals in Saturday afternoon’s stunning Game 2 victory, and true to form they scored a couple of goals in the second and third periods to make it a close hockey game.
“We dug ourselves a hole that was too big to get out of tonight,” said Claude Julien. “Our team wasn’t good enough at the start to give ourselves a chance. We need to rebound here, and make sure we’re ready from the start of the game at the drop of the puck.”
But the Bruins know they are the classic front-running team that can establish their physicality and five-on-five dominance once they hold a lead, and constantly playing from behind leads to sudden death in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We’ve said it. [The comeback] isn’t going to happen every single time, and it’s the perfect example tonight,” said Bergeron. “We’ve waited too long to make it a game, and we didn’t have enough time.”
The Bruins have scored eight of their 10 goals in the third period during the three-game series against Montreal, and clearly that kind of late kick is a strength to be relied upon by the Black and Gold. But right now the Bruins aren’t scoring in the opening periods of their games against the Canadiens, and they haven’t really shown up at all in the first period in two of the three games played against the Habs. First periods haven’t been their strength all season, but the Bruins also can’t allow it to be their weakness at the worst possible time in the playoffs.
It’s unthinkable that the Bruins aren’t in the right emotional place to start playoff games against their arch-rivals from Montreal, and concerning for a team that doesn’t fare well when forced into playing catch-up hockey. On the one side it’s a big concern that the Bruins are having some problems with their focus early in games, but on the other side it should be easily pointed out as the problem by a Bruins coaching staff that knows their team must make an adjustment.
It’s pretty simple: get busy playing a full 60 minutes that includes a strong, productive opening period, or get busy planning for an offseason that will soon be there for Boston if they don’t correct their problems vs. the Canadiens.