10 days ago, few Boston Bruin fans would have given the Black n' Gold much chance of sitting where they do now, but after three straight wins, two in overtime (one of which was blessed with a "History will be made" ad), the Bruins are just a win away from punching their ticket to round 2. Game 6 will be played tonight at the friendly confines of the Bell Centre, where the Bruins have suddenly found themselves quite comfortable, winning games 3 and 4 after earning one lousy charity point during the whole regular season.
After some up-and-down officiating at times earlier in the series, game 5 was a "let 'em play" affair, and if game 6 is the same way, that figures to favor Boston. The Bruins have generally been the better team at 5 on 5 hockey in this series, and in any case, seem to have little use for the power play (0 for 15 in the series).
After the shooting gallery that was game 4, game 5 was a spectacular goaltending duel, with Tim Thomas outdoing Carey Price. Thomas has found his rhythm after giving up a number of soft goals early in the series. He stopped 34 out of 36 shots in game 3, singlehandedly kept the Bruins in game 4 until they turned it around, and then stopped an insane 44 of 45 shots Saturday night. Where Thomas started poorly and then heated up, Price has followed a more bizarre pattern: he's been world-class at TD Garden, but dreadful in his own rink. This shouldn't be totally unexpected; for his career, Price has a save percentage of .893 at the Bell Centre, and .924 on the road.
The biggest change from the first two games to now is how the Bruins have dramatically cut down on giveaways. Montreal's gameplan in the first two games was to let Boston make mistakes, and counterattack. They had an obscene 14 giveaways in game 1. On Saturday, in 50% more gametime, they had 10. The Bruins have tightened up, and have outscored the Habs 11-7 in the last three games.
More below the fold...
- The following is strictly for entertainment purposes: Bodog has this game even; both teams are at -110. For a slightly better omen, ESPN Accuscore says the Bruins have a 57% chance of winning.
- The Bruins are 0-26 when down 0-2 in a series.
- You're damn right I just applied a reverse jinx.
- Looking at the box scores from a double OT game is always fun, and from them, it's clear that both Boston and Montreal are leaning heavily on their top pair defensemen. Dennis Seidenberg played an awesome 38:15, and Zdeno Chara 37:06, but the Habs top pair managed to top even those huge ice time numbers, trotting out PK Subban for 40:05 and Hal Gill for 37:39. Also noteworthy: Roman Hamrlik played 35:05, and no other defenseman had 25 minutes.
- Not that I'm complaining, but I am not sure why Jacques Martin isn't playing Jaroslav Spacek more. On a purely statistical basis, Spacek was arguably their best defenseman in the regular season. He had the best on-ice plus-minus, despite having middle-of-the-road zone starts and the second-highest quality of competition. (To be fair, he also had a pretty high quality of teammates metric.)
- Johnny Boychuk says the Bruins have learned from last year's debacle. I'll believe that if they finish this tonight.
- I'm going to go out on a limb and guess Montreal fans aren't going to be cheering Zdeno Chara's Norris Trophy nomination. Speaking of which, Chara's numbers are light years better than Nicklas Lidstrom's. I could live with Chara losing the award to Weber (he shouldn't, but I could live with it). I would be less sanguine about him losing it to a guy who, great as he is, is a glorified power play specialist at this point in his career.
- The Bruins did yet more tinkering with the power play in Monday's practice, with Patrice Bergeron centering the first unit. Claude Julien says the power play failures are due to the players being too tense right now. Good call. I'm sure it has nothing to do with having their ultra-mobile, ultra-skilled puck moving defenseman stand at the point, fake a slapshot and then pass across to Chara every goddamned time. Maybe the hope is that one of these times, Montreal's penalty killers will double over with laughter at the thought of Tomas Kaberle actually taking a shot, and then Boston will take advantage.
- Peter Chiarelli says that the turnaround began with the Bruins sacrificing their bodies more in game 3.
David Desharnais will miss this one with a sprained knee. Desharnais has a little value as a penalty killer, and had been playing wing on the Gomez/Gionta line, so it's a tough break. James Wisniewski may also be out, as he looked to have a back problem in game 5, missing a large chunk of the game. Yannick Weber will likely suit up as a fourth line forward and we may see Paul Mara on defense if Wisniewski can't give it a go. The Bruins are healthy, and we shouldn't look for any changes from there.
- Habs fans are convinced that the hockey gods are aligning against them, as Chris Lee (not the disgraced Congressman) is reffing this game. Hat tip to Habs Eyes on the Prize.
- The game will be broadcast on NESN. For DirecTV viewers, that will probably be channel 770, 770-1 in HD. It will be broadcast on CBC, as well, for our friends in Buffalo and points north. No Versus telecast tonight, however, as they'll be doing game 7 of Sabres vs. Flyers. The puck drops at 7:05, with the Public Skate opening at 6:30.