By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Johnny Boychuk has picked an opportune time to start playing his best hockey of the season.
The hard-hitting defenseman experienced highs and lows during his first full NHL season where he played from beginning to end.But Boychuk hasflourished in the big-game pressure of the playoffs just as he did last year against the Sabres and Flyers. Boychuk, placed onto the point during the power play in the Montreal series, has been unleashing a heavy slap shot that's resulted in a pair of goals and an assist in the last five games, as he piled up 12 shots on net during the four-gameseries against the Flyers.
Included in all that was the game-winning goal Friday night, as Boychuk broke a 1-1 tie early in the third period immediately following Patrice Bergeron's injury. The goal washuge given how dejected the bench could have been seeingone of their leaders skate off the ice with anapparent head injury,and Boychuk's big shotsent the Bruins on their way to a series-clinching, 5-1 win in Game 4 at TD Garden.
The Bs coaching stafffinally seem to realize that putting Boychuk out for shooting situations is leading to goaltenders having trouble smothering the defensemans forceful point shot, and Claude Julien said that his blueliner has finally found the range on his cannon after struggling with it all year. That was the case with 2:42 to go in the third period of Game 4 when Chris Kelly won a faceoff in the Flyers zone, Michael Ryder worked to get the puck back to Boychuk, and the defenseman smoked a big point howitzerfrom the right side that sailed and dipped toward the net after he caught it on edge.
You just want to try to get it past that first guy," said Boychuk. "Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky saw couple of Boychuk's earlier shots and he did a good job stopping them. But on the game-winning goal, it was kind of knuckling and it might have moved a little bit on him maybe.
That was a big goal tonight," said coach Claude Julien. "It certainly lifted the whole bench.
"Johnnys got a good shot and we know the success that hes had in the American League in the past on the power play, but for a good portion of the season here he didnt seem to be able to find that range or find those opportunities to use his shots. So that kind of took away some of his opportunities on the power play.
But we moved Patrice Bergeron up front and we certainly were looking for some plays down low. Patrice is one of those guys that can create those, but at the same time, we wanted to have a good shot from the point, so Johnny fit that mold pretty good. And, you know, he seems to have found, again, the range, and found those openings for him to use his shots in the playoffs more than he had during the regular season.
With the added minutes and responsibility now that injuries and attrition have started eating away at the blueline, Boychuk certainly couldn't have stepped up at a better time -- and will continue to need to if Bergeron is lost to the power play with an injury for any extended period of time.
The Bruins are 5-0 during the playoffs when they score the games first goal, and kept that streak alive on Friday night as Milan Lucic opened the scoring with a power-play goal. The importance of fast starts in playoff games for the Bruins can't be underappreciated.It's a regular Mark Recchi victory tour as the Bruins go through the playoffs and eliminate all of the Eastern Conference teams that the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer used to play for. First it was Montreal and then Philadelphia -- a pair of places where Recchi spent a significant chunk of his NHL career -- and now it's on to the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise that traded Recchi to Boston during the 2008-09 stretch run.Making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Bruins and taking that extra step with the franchise has made coming back for one more season all the more worth it to the NHL's elder statesman."The Bruins' front officemade moves that they believed were going to help us and thats important for a team to know. We went through a lot together as a team all year and we just kept battling through it," said Recchi. "We said it was a process from the day we started training camp to Vermont to Northern Ireland to Prague and back here. "We really believe in each other we really trust each other and it shows. It showed big time in the Montreal series. I think we took that next step against Philadelphia."With Boston's first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals there are now only four NHL franchises -- Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes -- that have not made it to the conference finals over the last 19 years.The B's power play managed to secure a goal for the second playoff game in a row, and went 1-for-5 for the night while literally drawing blood on a Milan Lucic power play goal after Gregory Campbell had his face ripped open by a Daniel Carcillo cross-check. That puts the Bruins at 2-for-37 for the playoffs and a five percent success rate, but thebright side is that it'sgetting better and it's certainly better than zero percent. "Our power play, we scored a couple of goals. It has been pretty good overall. I thought in the second period we had one there that we didnt do a very good job with our entries and consequently we didnt get much of a power play out of it," said Julien. "But once we got control in the offensive zone, I thought wed been doing a better job of moving the puck and creating some scoring chances, so hopefully thats something that keeps getting better. We all know were going to need it."
Sources indicated to CSNNE.com that the Eastern Conference Finals could begin as soon as Tuesday night in Boston if the Western Conference series get wrapped up by the end of this weekend.