The Bruins have had their moments in the early part of their playoff series against the hated Montreal Canadiens, but it looks like Boston is finally starting to find the range defensively. The Bruins allowed 11 goals in the first three games, though it was largely the power play and bottom six forwards for Montreal that were causing the problems for the Black and Gold.
Tuukka Rask and the Bruins defense finally kicked it up a notch in Game 4, and shut down everything and everybody skating around with a CH stitched on the front of their hockey sweater. Rask was strong in Game 4, but he didn't have to stand on his head for the shutout victory at the Bell Centre. Rather, it was the Bruins defense that made the difference, boxing out the front of net, eliminating the stretch pass from the Habs arsenal and attempting to grind away at the Montreal defenseman corps.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but we got the result that we wanted,” said Torey Krug.
The Bruins still aren’t getting many big hits on Canadiens players on the forecheck, but as the great Meatloaf once sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.”
“We got back to playing our system, and playing tight and solid defense,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I think we still have some more adjustments to be made, but that’s a lot more of the way that we should be playing. It’s playoff hockey. It’s tight hockey. They’re playing some solid defense as well.”
The sole partial breakaway for Montreal was a gift for Brian Gionta after David Krejci couldn’t work the puck deep enough, and the Habs captain also had probably the best rebound scoring chance from the slot. But Rask shut down both of those in the only real breakdowns for the Boston defense. Otherwise, the Boston defense did a superior job of clearing loose pucks away from the front of the net.
The defense also seemed more alert and significantly fasterer of foot with Matt Bartkowski reinserted into the lineup, even if he did take another holding penalty in what’s quickly becoming his favorite playoff infraction.
Thomas Vanek had the two power play goals and Tomas Plekanec got on the board with a backdoor goal in Game 3, but the Bruins defense has done a pretty good job of bottling up Max Pacioretty and Brenden Gallagher. The Bruins have managed to shut Vanek down during five-on-five play. The Zdeno Chara-Dougie Hamilton shutdown pair hasn’t been on ice for a 5-on-5 Montreal goal yet in the first four games. Hamilton was on ice at the end of the PP on the P.K. Subban penalty box breakaway, and Chara was on ice for the Lars Eller empty netter at the end of Game 3.
But by and large the Chara/Hamilton combo has been excellent against Montreal’s top forwards, and the entire defense rebounded nicely Thursday night.
“I think they’re skating very well. [Max] Pacioretty is a fast guy, [David] Desharnais is a fast guy, and Brenden Gallagher can move with the best of them as well,” said Torey Krug. “When Dougie and Zee are skating then they’re at the top of their game like they are right now.”
Now the stickler hockey coach is looking for more from his Bruins because he knows that it’s still in there. Although they pulled it out in overtime, the B’s seemed to be hanging on in the third period while being out-shot by a 14-7 margin.
“We’ve been better, and I think there is no doubt. I don’t think our team is playing badly at all. I just know that our team is still capable of playing a little bit better than what we have, and has shown so far,” said Claude Julien. “But that is not even close to say that we are not playing well…we are playing well. I just think there is still some potential in our team to play even better.”
Clearly Julien was hinting at the offensive side of the ice because the B’s defense is finally dropping back down into deep freeze mode as the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs rolls on.