MONTREAL – It wasn’t a dominant wire-to-wire pounding and it was just the slimmest margin of victory with an overtime goal, but the Bruins stopped beating themselves in a solid 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 at the Bell Centre.
The best-of-seven series is now even at 2 and the Black and Gold have home-ice advantage again in what’s become a best-of-three series. Game 5 is Saturday night at TD Garden.
“I thought throughout the whole game we were in it and playing solid hockey. That’s what you’re going to get in the playoffs. There are two very good goalies, and Tuukka [Rask] was huge for us making big plays,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We know they’re a tight team defensively and we need to find a way to crack that. We finally did by sticking with it and that [Matt Fraser game-winner] was a big goal.”
It’s a simple plan, but it’s also exactly the easily repeatable formula the Bruins need to find success: nothing fancy offensively, and good, disciplined work at the defensive end without breakdowns, or brain cramps, or things sliding out of focus even momentarily.
The most important thing for Claude Julien and his band of Bruins: there were zero self-inflicted wounds or mind-numbing mistakes that buried the team before they could find a road to victory.
There were also few reaching/hooking/holding penalties where Bruins players were using their sticks when moving their feet is always the better alternative against a fast Montreal team. The Bruins know it wasn’t their best on Thursday night, given how high their ceiling really is, but it was one big step closer to Boston Bruins hockey. Three of the four B’s forward lines were functioning at a high level – while the Krejci line still scuffles behind a bit – and most of Montreal’s high-quality chances were completely dialed down by Boston’s defense.
Still, their coach wants to see more.
“A win was important obviously to get us back in this series,” Julien said. “I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. That’s not to downplay this win. We’ve played hard but I know I’ve seen our team play better. It seems to be a process right now, and we’re working through it. You hope that this win here helps us to get better anyways, and you go from there.
“There’s no doubt these guys are working hard. They care. They want to," Julien said. "Just because it doesn’t always go as smooth as we like it to be, what I like is we’re showing character and we’re battling through it, and trying to find ways to win games.”
Beyond those crucial adjustments, there was a zoned-in Tuukka Rask making saves, and tossing up zeroes behind any slight D-zone breakdowns by the normally staunch Bruins defense.
It wasn’t sexy and it certainly creates nail-biting moments with an offense that’s merely functional with their big dogs struggling, but tight defense and air-tight goaltending is a combination that proves to be very successful in the playoffs.
As Julien noted after the game, “We didn’t give up three breakaways so that helped.” The Bruins shut off the Montreal stretch pass that burnt them to a crispy husk at the start of Game 3. That was a vast improvement in Montreal’s barn.
“They’re one of the best transition teams in the league, and they’re very fast when the puck is turned over, especially at the blue line,” said Torey Krug. “They’re coming the other way quickly. We made note of that. Obviously we need to keep an eye on that when they hang a guy back, and then spring him forward.”
The victory Thursday night was the work of a team that was probably more than a little humbled by the results in Game 3 and by the urgency provided by potentially facing a Montreal team at home down 3-1 in the series.
That’s something the Bruins desperately didn’t want against a Montreal team that’s already shown this is likely going to be a seven-game battle between the two arch-rivals.
It’s something the Black and Gold made happen more by force of will than force of skill in a tight OT win in Game 4.