Bruins

B's lack playoff skill set

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B's lack playoff skill set

By Michael Felger

The preconceived notions about the Bruins' first-round playoff series with Montreal have been turned on their ear. Those picking Boston expected the B's to win on size, grit, depth and goaltending. But, to this point, it looks like you were all looking at the wrong thing.

The Habs are in control of this series right now because they have more skill.

Oh yeah, that.

It's an issue for the Bruins all over the ice, from the inability of the defensemen to move the puck effectively out of their own zone to the lack of finishing touch up front.

There is a great misconception that in the NHL playoffs, the bigger, tougher and more defensive-minded teams are the ones that typically advance. It's as if stopping the puck has become more important than scoring the puck, and that talent is somehow less important. And it's just not the case.

Certainly, soft teams won't go far. And, yes, you can steal games with a hot goalie or a big effort. You might even get by a round or two on those things. Upsets obviously happen. But most postseason series, and the overwhelming majority of Stanley Cup championships, are won on skill.

Just because a game ends in a 2-0 or 3-1 final doesn't mean it wasn't about goal-scoring or skill on the blue line. This Bruins-Habs series is a case in point.

The Canadiens have had a dozen clear scoring chances so far in the series -- and they've buried nearly half of them. The Bruins have had around that many chances as well -- and they've put only one behind Carey Price.

Example 1: Montreal winger Brian Gionta got the puck at the side of an open Bruins net early in the first period of Game One -- and he deposited it underneath the crossbar for a goal. Bruins winger Brad Marchand got the puck at the side of an even more open Canadiens net later in that same period -- and he whiffed.

Example 2: Montreal winger Mathieu Darche was fed a pass all alone to the side of the B's net in the first period of Game Two -- and he rifled it high and wide of a sprawling Tim Thomas for the goal. Boston winger Milan Lucic was fed a pass wide open in front of a sprawling Price later that same period -- and he shot the puck square into the pads of the prone goalie.

Those situations defined the first two games, as did a blown goalmouth bid by David Krejci in Game Two and numerous other Bruins shots sent square into the chest of Price. Those plays had nothing to do with size, grit, goaltending or depth. They all came down to skill. And the Bruins didn't have enough of it.

Same thing on defense, where the Bruins defense has morphed straight into their typical shaky playoff mode. All five Montreal goals this series have been the result of turnovers from the Bruins coming out of their own zone. All five. On Saturday, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg took turns handing the puck over to the Habs, and the result was three goals behind Thomas.

This is nothing new under Claude Julien. His passive, east-west breakout system works fine over the drone of 82 games, but it has been badly exposed over the last four playoff seasons. Maybe that explains the mantra around the Bruins the last few weeks to go "north-south." Unfortunately, after being instructed by their coach to go sideways for years, it's clear the players are ill-equipped to change direction.

This is about personnel as much as it is coaching. It would have been nice to have Zdeno Chara on the ice Saturday (a pretty big story to be flushed out later), but the sad truth is that even if the captain had been there the dynamics would have been roughly the same. Chara doesn't move the puck well himself, a deficiency that really comes out in these games. And it turns out the trade for Tomas Kaberle hasn't solved the problem, either.

The B's simply do not have the skill in back to handle the puck with poise and precision in the face of a heavy, playoff-style forecheck.

The Canadiens may not be blessed with a roster full of those kinds of defensemen, either (heck, they employ Hal Gill), but at least P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski bring some of it to the table. As a result, the Habs haven't had nearly the number of mistakes in back as the B's.

Then there's this mythical "depth" advantage the Bruins supposedly have. What a fraud that is.

Not that Julien doesn't still believe it. In fact, you have to wonder if someone somewhere in the Bruins' organization got to Claude after Game One, when the Bruins didn't have a single forward log over 19 minutes of ice time while the Canadiens made sure their top four forwards were all over the boards for at least that much time (Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, Gionta and Mike Cammalleri all played between 19:13 and 20:52).

Even though the B's were in the process of being shut out that night, Julien still played some of his pluggers more than his skill players. Namely, third-liners Rich Peverley (17:50) and Chris Kelly (16:39) were on the ice more than second-line center Patrice Bergeron (15:47). And this wasn't just a special-teams issue: Both Peverley and Kelly logged more even-strength time than Bergeron as well.

Brutal. Yet typical for Julien, who never met a third-line grinder he didn't like. If there's another coach alive who believes playing Chris Kelly more than Patrice Bergeron is the best way to win a playoff game, I'd like to know who it is.

So it changed for Game Two, when Kelly was on the ice for only 11:51 and Krejci (22:08) and Lucic (22:06) were way up. And there was also, if you can believe it, a lineup change, as Nathan Horton (aka, Michael Ryder, version 2.0) was moved down to the third line in exchange for Peverley for the final period.

It usually takes a crow bar to get Julien to make such a move. Maybe someone finally informed him that he was in the playoffs.

Still, Bergeron's ice time remained stuck in the mid-teens in Game Two (16:21). With Krejci's production down due to a variety of factors (poor play, no life from his wingers, blanket coverage from the Canadiens), Bergeron could be the guy to carry the offense right now. He and Marchand are the only B's forwards finding room to operate. Yet they find themselves fighting for ice time with the checkers.

This is where Julien's roll-four-lines approach really hurts the B's. In a series where the Habs make sure they get the most out of their best players (Plekanec played 21:34 on Saturday), the Bruins coach remains slow andor reluctant to identify and lean on his.

And I won't even get into the two shifts Julien gave to his fourth line (Greg Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille) in the final 6:30 on Saturday. I was watching the game with Tony Amonte when those players hit the ice and he remarked that he has never seen a coach put out his crash line -- not once, but twice -- while trailing by two goals late in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

I responded by saying that he obviously hasn't been watching Julien the last few years.

The question now is how much longer the rest of us will be subjected to it.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

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Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins weren’t about to dance on any Montreal Canadiens’ graves after it was over and done with, but they effectively closed the door on any flickering playoff hopes for the Habs this week. It all ended with Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre that finished off the sweep of all three meetings between the two arch-rivals over an eight day span, and with the reeling Montreal a stunning 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

It was a close game nearly all the way through in Montreal until David Pastrnak and Riley Nash scored in the final few minutes of the third period, but the Bruins outscored the Habs by an 11-5 margin while clearly establishing they were the better team in all three contests. It all makes sense given the opposite directions that the two hockey clubs are headed at this point in the season, and because of that the Bruins were playing it pretty cool after burying the Habs.

“It was kind of a crazy week because we were playing them three times, so we obviously wanted to play good hockey,” said Tuukka Rask, who won all three games vs. the Habs while improving his lifetime record vs. the Habs to 10-15-3 in the process. “[We wanted to] get as many points as possible, and won all of those games along with the one on Long Island. So it was a great week for us.”

Certainly it seemed like there was more genuine emotion from the Bruins in Claude Julien’s return to Boston midweek, and perhaps a little more adrenaline in last weekend’s first game at the Bell Centre where rookies like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen were dipping their toes into the storied rivalry for the first time.

But on this Saturday night it was more about a complete dismantling of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge even as the Bruins initially fell down by a goal after a bad McAvoy turnover. Instead it was Boston’s Perfection Line that went to work with an efficient, dominant performance as David Pastrnak scored the game’s first goal and insurance third goal in the third period. They also accounted for the game-winner when Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak hemmed Montreal’s fourth line in the defensive zone, and Torey Krug eventually stepped up and rifled one short side on Carey Price.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combined for two goals, six assists and a plus-8 in the resounding victory over the Habs, and had a dominant 12 of Boston’s 31 shots on net when the final horn had sounded. They simply overwhelmed Montreal with their depth, the high end quality of their lineup and the fact that Boston was rested while the Habs had to play in Washington DC on Friday night in a three games in four days stretch.

All of that allowed the Bruins to drive the final nail into Montreal’s coffin when the game was over, and it furthermore allowed Boston to keep worrying about the teams they’re trying to catch (ahem…Tampa Bay Lightning) rather than Eastern Conference bottom-feeders like the Canadiens.

“We talked about doing the job against them and finding a ways to push teams down while gaining ground on the teams above us,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was a great effort again. We knew that they would be ready for us, but we also knew that they had played last night. So maybe if we had a good start we could jump on them. I thought we had a good game.”

Clearly there have been ebbs and flows to the Bruins/Habs rivalry over their long history together, and both Boston and Montreal have been in the catbird at different times even in the recent editions of their history. But right now Boston is beating the Canadiens badly at their own skill and speed game and dominating thing with pure hockey rather than bullying, and that’s got to sting for a Habs group that simply couldn’t compete with the Bruins in three different chances to do so this week. 

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David Pastrnak dominates third straight win against Canadiens

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David Pastrnak dominates third straight win against Canadiens

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak had been a little quiet offensively, but that all changed on Saturday night against Montreal. It was the 21-year-old that answered with a bad angle goal in the second period after Montreal had taken the first lead in the game, and it was Pastrnak again in the third period crashing the net and scoring his second goal to finally give Boston the breathing room that they needed. Pastrnak thoroughly dominated the game, scored two goals and three points along with a plus-3 rating, and led all players with a game-high eight shots on net while playing with energy and intensity in all three zones. It is nights like Saturday night in Montreal when you see just how good Pastrnak could still be a few years down the road.

BLACK EYE: Carey Price wasn’t terrible in the game, but he gave up the wrong goal at the wrong time to the Bruins in the second period. David Pastrnak surprised him with a bad angle shot by the goal line aimed at his skates, and Price couldn’t recover quickly enough to keep the puck from squirting into the net for the game-tying goal. Given how much better the Bruins are than the Canadiens this season, Price was going to be have to letter-perfect in order to beat the Black and Gold. Instead he gave up a bad goal just minutes after Montreal had finally scored, and completely sucked all of the momentum out of the Habs. A few minutes later Torey Krug beat Carey Price with a sniped shot for the go-ahead goal and that was it for the night. In all Price allowed three goals on 30 shots and had one of his weaker games against the Bruins in recent memory.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins appeared to score the insurance goal in the third period when Patrice Bergeron jumped on the rebound of a shot attempt where David Pastrnak’s stick had shattered on the initial shot. But a coach’s challenge ruled that the play was off-sides and the goal was overturned leaving it at a one-goal game in the third period. Montreal was given second life to scratch for one goal to at least push things in overtime, but instead that line was at it again and Pastrnak scored on a rebound in front directly from a Torey Krug point shot. That was the goal that officially broke Montreal’s spirit and allowed the Bruins to sweep all three games over the Habs in an eight day span.

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug hasn’t exactly been a scoring machine lately, but he stepped up and had one of his best games against Montreal on Saturday. It was Krug that ended up with the game-winning goal on a sniper shot over Price’s shoulder in the second period when he jumped into the play with the Perfection Line dominating, and it was Krug that finished with a goal, three points and a plus-three rating in 17:24 of ice time. He finished with five shot attempts, a hit and a blocked shot as well, and was truly making things happen offensively as he did with a point shot in the third period that turned into a Pastrnak rebound goal for the insurance marker.

BY THE NUMBERS: 25 – the number of goals for the Perfection Line (Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak) over the 16-game point streak that the Bruins have been riding on for over a month.

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “I think at the end of the day if I knew that I would have to face them now, I probably would’ve kept them separate for all those years.” –A joking Claude Julien when asked postgame what it feels like to have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand doing so much damage against his new team during the three games played in eight days. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE