BOSTON Claude Julien needs to know who can -- and sometimes more importantly, who cannot -- be relied on in big moments.
He's done a good job of identifying those players to this point in the playoffs and hit some home runs with the patience hes shown. Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly stand out as the biggest beneficiaries.
Juliens faith yielded dividends with both players, but there was also a key change in Game 3 at the Bell Centre that helped stabilize things for the Bs and spark three straight victories.
The Bruins' top six defensemen were held scoreless in the first two losses to the Canadiens, but a new group of pairings have combined for eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) and a whopping plus-10 in the last three straight wins against the Habs.
The Bs turnaround versus Montreal coincided with several events, but perhaps the biggest was the decision to pair Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. That was actually the plan when the Bruins re-signed Seidenberg last summer, as both can maintain their level of play under the duress of a big workload. They got away from it during the regular season, but put them together in Game 3.
I think you make adjustments throughout the series and you see certain things, said Julien. We decided to put those two guys together and as far as their play is concerned its been pretty good. Theyve been pretty steady and theyve been two of our steadiest Ds all year.
Having them together makes them a force and they are certainly capable of handling a lot of ice time, as well. So we feel comfortable with that and we also felt very comfortable with the other pairs we put together because basically all three pairs have changed.
Seidenberg, 29, is probably the best embodiment of the improvement brought about by the changes. He was a minus-4 with no points while skating with Tomas Kaberle, and was more noticeable for defensive breakdowns ending up in the back of Bostons net.
That mistake-prone shakiness has turned around in the last three games with a pair of assists and a plus-1 in three games skating with Chara.
Youre just trying to go forward with the puck and avoid soft plays, said Seidenberg. Just getting the puck behind their Ds and making them move their feet. There might be a couple of minutes more for me, but its the same kind of responsibility. Playing with Zee is great. I love playing with him.
Im always really critical of myself, so I always feel like Im not playing as well as I want to. Its been okay, but there are always those little things happening on the ice that annoy the crap out of me. But I need to look past that stuff and think positive.
Seidenberg was a monster in Game 5, blocking six shots, tallying four hits and firing five shots on net while filling up the scoresheet and providing consistent offensive pressure while pinching into the rush. The blueliner admitted he started feeling a little fatigue in his body after pushing past 38 minutes of ice time, but it was difficult to notice in his play.
I think most of us are pretty tired and its good to have a day like Sunday to recover, said Seidenberg. The more the game went on the more tired I started feeling, but overall I felt surprisingly good. It shows that I did something right this summer, I guess. It feels good that I felt so good in such a long game.
The biggest side benefit of the reconfiguration?
Its moved Kaberle into a bottom pairing with Adam McQuaid and shaved down his ice time. That, in turn, negates some of the conditioning issues that Kaberle has shown since arriving from Toronto, and he's has managed assists in each of Bostons last two wins. Kaberle set up Michael Ryders breakaway goal in Montreal, and Brad Marchands score Saturday night, with some silky smooth passing.
You just have to focus on every shift and every little play can make a big difference, said Kaberle. Everybody knows McQuaid is a stay-at-home defenseman and a big kid, and Im the opposite. I love to move the puck, advance the puck and help the forwards where I can. Weve been confident together, we talk on the ice and its been good.
Every game there are different heroes, and thats the way we have to take it from now on. It starts with defense first, but its a simple game. Go deep, play in their zone and get bodies in front of the net.
The power play still hasnt clicked under Kaberle, but it looks like hes beginning to put things together 5-on-5 and taking some chances offensively while knowing that McQuaid has his back defensively.
The pairing of Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference has also flourished in the last three games, and Ference has been rewarded for walking that fine line of aggression and poise with the puck while guarding the blue line.
It was Ference -- with help from Milan Lucics coolness with the puck in double overtime -- who helped set up Nathan Hortons game-winner Saturday night, and he's been a huge presence in Bostons comeback in the series.
While its easy to point to guys like Ryder and Horton raising their game, Juliens key defensemen change has been just as vital to the Black and Gold revival going on over the last week.
Kaberle was asked about general manager Peter Chiarellis comments last week concerning the organizations disappointment in him since he arrived from Toronto. Chiarelli told 98.5 the Sports Hub that he expected better out of Kaberle after trading away Joe Colborne, a first-round pick and a conditional draft pick at the end of February, which is a reflection on the poor power-play performance after the Toronto defensemans appearance on the Bs scene.
Kaberle said that he took the critical comments as a motivating tool, and his play has ticked upward since his minutes were cut down three games ago.
I always put a lot of pressure on myself and hopefully I can prove why Im here, said Kaberle. Id like to help every little thing with what I do on the ice. Obviously Im one of the guys on the PP and Id like to do something to help there.
I felt like the first couple of games I could have been better, and the last couple of games Im feeling confident and feeling better. Well take it from there.
Brad Marchand bit his tongue a bit when asked about the Max Pacioretty tweeting that was going on while Game 5 was being played on Saturday night. The injured Canadiens forward tweeted that the double-overtime classic felt as long as Marchands nose before quickly deleting it in the middle of the game. Shortly after the tweet Marchand scored Bostons first goal to incite the home crowd, but said he had no idea about the Pacioretty tweet until he retired to the dressing room between periods.
Marchand had an uncharacteristically understated response, and it was a sign of just how focused the fun-loving winger is in helping his team close out the series.
I walked in between one of the periods and saw it on TV. But stuff happens. I didnt know I scored quickly after . . . its always nice to just kind of rub it in a little. Twitter is not for me. Ill try and stay away from that stuff, which would get me in trouble.
Chiarelli announced over the weekend that the club has decided not to renew the contract of Providence Bruins coach Rob Murray. Murray has been offered a position in the Bruins organization in another capacity. No decisions have been made regarding the other members of the P-Bruins' coaching staff as of now.