BOSTON – The Boston Bruins are an excellent hockey team, but they have an imperfection. There are times when the energy and emotion in a game reaches such a fevered pitch that they are reduced to a child eyeing the cookie jar.
They can’t help themselves.
Through 50 minutes of a wildly entertaining Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon, this is where the Bruins were. They were bending the rules, engaging in scrums and blaming the referees. “I felt (there was) a lot of crap that we put up with today,” huffed coach Claude Julien afterwards.
What was happening is that they were beating themselves – with plenty of help from the Canadiens – and they were in grave danger of heading to the Bell Centre down 2-0 in this second-round series. But then the Boston Bruins reminded everyone why they are also a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. Without warning, they found their focus and morphed back into the machine.
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All it took was a mind-bending five minutes 32 seconds to completely erase a 3-1 deficit against a Habs team that hadn’t lost in regulation all year when leading after two periods. It was a show of strength. Now the series is tied.
“What’s pretty obvious right now is if we focus on what we need to do and try and not let the distractions – the things we can’t control – get to us, we’re going to be OK,” Julien said after a 5-3 victory.
There is absolutely no guarantee of that happening, which is why this remains such a tough matchup to handicap. The next game will be played in Montreal on Tuesday night, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if everyone ends up back at TD Garden on May 14 for a Game 7.
Montreal played one of its best games of the entire post-season on Saturday afternoon and lost for the first time. It found a way to interrupt Boston’s all-world breakout and didn’t engage in nearly as much extra-curricular activity.
The 3-1 lead was built on a pair of Thomas Vanek tip-in goals on the power play. The Austrian winger was dropped to the fourth line for a stretch in Game 1, but has now gained release from Michel Therrien’s doghouse. The coach had offered a fairly scathing criticism when asked about Vanek prior to Game 2: “Work ethic is not negotiable, attitude is not negotiable and competing is not negotiable.”
When Montreal and Boston meet in the playoffs, emotion is not negotiable. There may be no tougher job in hockey than being one of the men assigned to impose order on this chaos. That job fell to referees Dave Jackson and Dan O’Rourke on this day and they had their hands full, especially during the second period.
The call that angered Julien, in particular, was a roughing minor on Andrej Meszaros. However, he clearly high-sticked Thomas Plekanec in the corner before being sent off. That put Boston down 4-on-3 and Vanek soon deflected a P.K. Subban pass over Tuukka Rask to make it 2-1.
Before the puck was even dropped on the ensuing faceoff, the Bruins were put down another man because of a bench minor. Jackson clearly didn’t like something he heard from Julien.
“The referee, I kind of told him that I didn’t agree with his calls,” said the Bruins coach.
The apparent meltdown carried into the start of the third period when Dougie Hamilton tackled noted agitator Brendan Gallagher. That resulted in another power play – it’s still not clear how Vanek managed to get his stick on a Subban shot through traffic to push the lead to 3-1 – and Montreal was 13:30 away from another stunning victory in Boston.
However, we should all have known better. Blown two-goal leads are all the rage in the Stanley Cup playoffs right now and the Habs were about to become the 20th team already to do just that.
Hamilton got the rally started with a shot that passed through five bodies before beating a heavily screened Carey Price at 10:56. Then Patrice Bergeron tied it after his shot from a bad angle ricocheted off Habs defenceman Francis Bouillon, who had already had the same thing happen on Dan Paille’s opening goal.
By then a Bruins victory seemed as inevitable as flowers blooming in May. It was Reilly Smith that would be awarded Boston’s “old-time hockey” jacket by teammates after sneaking into the circle and firing a Torey Krug pass over a falling Price at 16:28 for the game-winner.
“They got pretty lucky I thought,” said the Habs goalie.
Of course, there is that old saying about needing to be good to be lucky. There is a strong element of that at play here. Boston was the NHL’s best third-period team this season and has developed a reputation for mounting big comebacks.
“I’ve seen them do that a couple times since I’ve been in the league,” said Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban.
It has become so routine that very little has to be said once the Bruins get behind. Julien rarely calls timeouts during a game – he didn’t on Saturday – because this group is so familiar with what it takes. A key part of that is abandoning the rough stuff and getting back to playing the right way.
“These guys have been through a lot,” said Julien. “As a coach, you’ve been around these guys for a long time, you just let them be and you let them get themselves going.”
The enthusiasm that came with tying the series was tempered somewhat by the tightrope they negotiated to get there. Boston nearly repeated 2011 all over again by opening a playoff series with two home losses to Montreal.
Against this version of the Canadiens, which is deeper and better than the one from three years ago, that would have been very dangerous. “We can’t expect to always come from behind in the third period,” Bergeron cautioned.
In that case, they best find a way to stifle their innate impulses. The series is shifting to the Bell Centre and NHL buildings don’t get any more emotional than that one.