Bruins' penalty kill comes through in opener

Bruins' penalty kill comes through in opener
October 4, 2013, 2:00 am
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(AP Photo)

BOSTON - The optimism was all about a new Bruins power play that was going to boost Boston after a seven power-play performance in the preseason.

Instead, it was the old reliable penalty kill that powered the B’s to a 3-1 victory in their season opener by virtue of a pair of shorthanded goals in the first and third periods. It wasn’t just the opportunistic scoring, though.

The Bruins also shut down two different 5-on-3 advantages for a Tampa Bay power play that includes Marty St. Louis and Steve Stamkos, and held Stamkos to two harmless shots on goal in 24-plus minutes of ice time. It’s safe to say that St. Louis didn’t see it coming despite the many things the talented forward has witnessed in his long NHL tenure.

“Not in a million years [would I think] our power play would be the thing that would let us down,” St. Louis said. “Usually we’re pretty sharp on our PP, we just weren’t sharp [tonight]. They were taking away some of our go-tos, and we just were slow-reacting and adjusting. That falls on us. We’ll fix that.”

Johnny Boychuk led the way with 4:09 of shorthanded ice time for the Bruins, and Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg deserved plenty of props for their PK work.

But it was Chris Kelly and Patrice Bergeron who authored the shorthanded goals, and also backboned the penalty kill unit that ultimately won the day for the Black and Gold.

“Those 5-on-3’s, I thought the guys did a great job killing them. Tuukka [Rask] made a couple of big saves when he had to. Those are really positive signs for our team,” said coach Claude Julien. “The fact that we were able to score a couple shorthanded goals [was a positive] as well.

“Our penalty kill probably allowed us to win this game tonight. Because it’s an early 5-on-3 for almost two minutes, and the guys did a great job. You look at [Marty] St. Louis, and you look at [Steven] Stamkos and [Ryan] Malone was a big body in front, [Victor] Hedman back there. They have some guys that can do some damage on the power play, and our guys did a great job of being in the right position and not overreacting. I guess the shots away from where they wanted them, and whenever they did, Tuukka [Rask] was up to the task to make the big saves.”

Kelly freed himself up for the first shorthanded chance, and Tampa defenseman Mark Barberio was whistled for hooking on a breakaway to hand Boston’s third line center a penalty shot. The steady pivot them used a forehand-to-backhand-forehand triple deke fake before getting Anders Lindback out of the equation, and Kelly simply backhanded the puck in the vacant net.

It’s something Gordon Bombay would have been proud of while drawing up game plans for the Mighty Ducks, but also a terrific skill play Kelly didn’t make too much of a big deal abut. The fact it came in the first period when the Bruins were outplayed and outshot by a 15-6 margin made it even more impressive.

“I kind of had an idea what I was going to do before. I try that move in practice but Tuukka [Rask] doesn’t move so it ends up just going into his pad. It’s kind of deflating,” said Kelly. “But I was happy he bit [on the fake]. He’s a big guy and to kind of shoot high he takes away a lot of the upper net. So I just tried to freeze him.”

The truth remains Kelly’s game went far beyond just the penalty-kill zone. He finished with a couple of shots on net, he won 12-for-17 face-offs for the Bruins and he blocked a shot in a nice show of his intangibles. Bergeron joined Kelly in the all-around center display in the third period when passed the puck to himself off the boards in creating a 2-on-1 in a game they narrowly led by a 2-1 score.

The play arrived with the Lightning holding a two-man advantage just a few minutes into the third period, and finished with Bergeron freeing himself up by executing a nifty toe drag move on Radko Gudas. Bergeron flipped the puck toward the net, and the shot squirted through Lindback’s pads for the insurance goal in the third period.

That third-period play should certainly answer any questions about Bergeron’s ability to play at his normally high level while coming back from playoff injuries.

“That was one of the biggest stories of the game. [Steven] Stamkos, [Martin] St. Louis, you know, even just those two and they have other weapons [on the power play] too," Julien said.

“Guys showed a lot [killing two 5-on-3’s]. They blocked shots, big Z’s [Zdeno Chara] long reach.

“One of them I think [Chara] was in the box there, so they didn’t have him. They didn’t have one of the top guys out there, so it’s definitely gutsy," Julien said. "You don’t want to give a team those chances. But that was a big boost for us the first time and especially the second time being able to come out of [the 5-on-3 situations] unscathed.”

The Bruins were fourth in the NHL last season with an 87.1 percent success rate on the penalty kill, and five shorthanded goals in the lockout-shortened season. The Bruins are almost halfway there in only one night’s work.