BOSTON –- In a playoff series where the Black and Gold have been unrecognizable at times, the real Bruins that won this year’s President’s Trophy finally stood up in Game 5 Saturday night.
The Bruins were a physical marvel with Milan Lucic hitting so hard and so often that twice Montreal's PK Subban bailed out on pucks. They were a power-play machine with two PP goals scored in a 32-second span. And they showed their depth, overwhelming the hated Habs with their third line.
All of this played out in the 60 minutes of Game 5, along with the B’s renewed defensive vigor, to give Boston a 4-2 win on the TD Garden ice. The Bruins are now head back up to Montreal for Game 6 sporting a 3-2 lead in the series, and they have a chance to cut down the Canadiens on their own home ice.
Saturday was the reappearance of the hockey team that ranked high among the NHL’s elite in nearly every team statistical category. The Bruins didn’t seem to have any real sustainable weakness.
“I think everybody who knows and who has followed our team noticed that," coach Claude Julien said. "I think it was more — we seemed more in control, we seemed to be putting pucks in the right areas, we seemed to be in sync, and I thought we were focused for the whole 60 minutes. It was a great effort on our part, and as I said earlier, there’s a lot tougher times coming. We’ve got to be ready for the next one.”
Game 5 also marked the triumphant return of the Bruins' swagger.
Lucic flexed his pythons like Hulk Hogan at P.K. Subban after starring in his nightmares on the forecheck. Shawn Thornton gave the flamboyant, excellent Habs defenseman a blast from his water bottle at the end of the third period, a move that might make him a little lighter in the wallet sometime soon. Zdeno Chara continued to make goal-scorers Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek disappear.
For everybody associated with the Bruins it was the first real display of Bruins hockey after getting sidetracked earlier in the series.
“We did everything we wanted to. Good start. Kept pushing, kept pushing, and got the power play goal,” said Tuukka Rask, who was excellent between the pipes for the second straight game despite taking a Tomas Plekanec forearm to the head in the first period.
“We never looked back, so it was a great effort from everybody.”
It was so overwhelmingly positive that Zdeno Chara was practically tossing out verbal bouquets by saying it was “close to” a 60-minute effort, which is as close to a compliment as the B’s captain gets during the intense playoffs.
Clearly the captain and Dougie Hamilton have been a big part of this slow-building turnaround as the B’s shutdown pairing hasn’t been on the ice together for a five-on-five goal against since the Pavel Datsyuk Game 1 game-winner against the Red Wings three weeks ago.
There were playoff heroes all across the board for the Black and Gold.
It started with a first-period goal from third-line center Carl Soderberg, who seemed like a stranger in a strange land for the Bruins a year ago before turning into an offensive, puck-possession force among the bottom-six forwards. Then there was a dazzling no-look backhanded pass from Torey Krug to set up Jarome Iginla’s power play score in the second.
Reilly Smith and Iginla had their man advantage strikes for each of the two power play units when Tomas Plekanec decided to go all broken arrow on the Canadiens and take three boneheaded penalties in a row.
Throughout the game, the Bruins continued to pound away with the physicality -- a B’s team trait that had been missing in the series -- as evidenced by the game-high seven hits from Lucic.
“We knew how important this game was, so we wanted this win. We talked about the mindset of leaving it all on the ice, and playing to win,” said Lucic. “I was just trying to move my feet, and being aggressive. I just wanted to play aggressive. In Game 3 and Game 4 I felt really sluggish, and like I wasn’t able to get the puck at stuff. So I just focused on moving my legs and moving my feet, and we were able to turn some pucks over today.”
Lucic going hard into the corners for perfectly placed pucks, discouraging opposing defenseman is one of the biggest pieces of the Bruins’ sustained success. It sets the tone for almost everything else that the Black and Gold do on the ice, and it was conspicuously missing from the first four games of the series.
But the NHL’s best team was back in the house against the Canadiens on Saturday night, an encouraging sign that the Bruins are hitting their playoff stride as they near the halfway mark of their intended journey up the mountain.