BROSSARD, Quebec -- The Boston Bruins are frontrunners in the very best sense of the word. They rely on hitting the other team early with their heavy forecheck and quick-strike offense, and then truly getting physical once they’re playing with the lead.
But that hasn't been the case in their series against Montreal. Aside from the grand total of 11 minutes, 39 seconds that they’ve held the lead during the first three games against the Canadiens, the Bruins have been chasing the puck like a pack of slow, easily distracted bloodhounds.
In fact, aside from several moments at the beginning and end of Game 2, the Bruins have been playing “catch-up hockey” against a Montreal team that’s proving extremely difficult to catch.
“It’s hard to play ‘catch up’ all the time,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “We’re a good team with the lead, [and] we’ve done actually quite well this year when we haven’t had a lead. But it’s taxing. You end up chasing a lot, and when you do that you get frustrated. That’s what we were in [Game 3], we were frustrated.”
It was never more obvious than in that Game 3 loss in the ultimate hostile environment of the Bell Centre. The Bruins fell down by a pair of goals early due to blown defensive assignments and an alarming lack of focus, and the Bruins were in full chase mode for the rest of the game.
It worked to some degree in the first two games; they pushed things to double overtime with a stirring third-period comeback in Game 1, then overcame a mediocre second period in Game 2 with yet another third-period comeback. But there’s only so many times any team can go to the come-from-behind well, no matter how robust their third-period body of work appears to be, and it would seem the Bruins will have difficulty calling on that something extra as the series wears on.
“We’ve been in a lot of series before that are tight, and that’s why they go seven games,” said Gregory Campbell. “It was a good win for us in Game 2 to be able to [come back], but that’s not a position that you want to continue to put yourself in. It’s tough to come back in the playoffs, and that’s especially true against a good team.”
The Canadiens have, contrary to the opinions of some donning the Black-and-Gold goggles that scream “Everything is Awesome” in Bruins land, proven they're a good hockey team in the three games. The Habs have used the quick-strike power play, and their speed and aggressiveness -- along with some superior goaltending from Carey Price -- to build their case.
Claude Julien certainly knows at this point that it’s important for his Bruins team to buck up, and make a stand in the belly of the beast while truly taking control of their first game in the series.
“We need to make our own breaks,” said Julien. “We have to look at ourselves and say ‘did we play well enough to win [Game 3]?’, and we didn’t do that. We can look at all of the little stuff on the side and something that we don’t control, and complain about it. But that’s not our kind of hockey. We need to be honest with ourselves, and we need to be better.”
The bright side in all of this is that the Bruins have absolutely been in this position before, and they know they haven’t played anything close to their best hockey. Aside from the Patrice Bergeron Line, which has held up its end of the bargain over the last couple of games thanks in large part to Bergeron and Brad Marchand, nearly every member of the Bruins roster has played below their capabilities thus. In particular, the Bruins have missed the punishing, cycling shifts of David Krejci and cohorts Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, who, for the most part, have been MIA so far in the series.
The Bruins know that Game 4 at the Bell Centre isn’t a must win, and there’s no benefit to heaping that kind of pressure on themselves.
“I think every game is important," said Julien. "If you asked LA that same question, what would they have answered when they came back and won four straight [against San Jose]? We look at it differently. Game 3 was a must win for us going game to game. We’re a group that’s confident, and there are guys right now that are a little frustrated at themselves.
“We need to rely on those guys to come up [for Game 4] and play the way we know we can. It’s a 2-1 series, and it’s not the end of the world. We just need to battle back. There’s been no reason to panic in the past, and there’s no reason to panic now.”
The Black and Gold don’t need amazing quite yet in their series against the hated Habs, but normal, run-of-the-mill Bruins hockey would be a welcomed return to the Boston roster with their backs inching closer to the wall. The B's have proven they’re capable of magical, amazing things when desperation is the order of the day, and maybe this is one of those instances where they need to peer over the cliff before deciding not to jump.
A clean, simple, efficient, dominant win from the Boston Bruins on Thursday would restore home-ice advantage, and it all starts by playing the role of frontrunner against a Montreal team that wants nothing to do with chasing them.