During the regular season, any opponent of the Boston Bruins knew heading into the third trailing almost certainly meant their demise was looming.
The B’s carried a league-high 45 leads into the third period during the 2013-14 campaign, finishing with a record of 41-2-2 in those situations. Heading into Game 5 of their conference semifinal series against Montreal Saturday, Boston was 3-0 in that particular scenario through 10 playoff tilts this spring.
It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out that the Bruins have had to play the role of comeback kids on a few too many occasions this postseason. That, however, wasn’t the case on Saturday.
The Black and Gold staked themselves to a 3-0 lead over the Habs at TD Garden en route to a 4-2 victory, which gives them a 3-2 series lead.
“We’re a pretty good team to play with a lead and they are, too,” said Carl Soderberg, who opened the scoring by burying a feed from behind the net by linemate Loui Eriksson. “So I think in four of five games, the first goal scorers have won the game. It’s always important, especially in the second and third.”
The Bruins earned themselves something they truly haven’t had in this series: some much-needed breathing room. With Tomas Plekanec in the box to begin the second period, Reilly Smith redirected a shot from Dougie Hamilton past Carey Price to make it 2-0.
The goal was Boston’s first strike on the man advantage of the series.
“We got a little bit away from the things that brought success early in the year,” Smith said when asked if the team was concerned about their power-play struggles, following a series in which they scored six times on 16 chances against the Wings. “I mean, in the first series, it seemed like everything was going in, so we maybe took it for granted a little bit, but it was good to get back to it tonight. I think we stuck to it, we tried to slow things down, get our pace back. And their penalty kill was outworking us for the first period, so it was good to get back and take control.”
“I thought we were just more confident tonight,” Iginla said when asked what made the difference on the power play. “It was a big boost when we got that. It’s been a little bit, we all know that, the guys that are on it, we want to come through on the power play. It was nice. It was a great goal that Smitty scored. It wasn’t just the goal but it was again how they moved it around and were able to create and then be able to score at the end of the nice plays, that’s a big boost for a power play. At the start of a period (it) was nice, and then to be able to get another power play and follow that up, it felt good all the way around.”
The flow of the game was very much unlike the way the first four games played out. While Boston and Montreal each won two tilts, the latter spent most of the time in the driver’s seat, as far as the scoreboard goes. The Bruins never led in Game 1, didn’t do so until late in the third in Game 2, fell behind early and couldn’t complete their comeback in Game 3 and didn’t get on the board until overtime on Matt Fraser’s winning goal in Game 4.
A three-goal lead, not even halfway through the contest, surely felt a little foreign, given how things have gone of late.
“It’s definitely different,” said defenseman Kevan Miller, who blocked a game-high five shots. “We’ve been used to it being so tight. Especially for us, we haven’t been up like that. I think that’s more of our type of game. When we get ahead, we can really impose our will on them.”
While Montreal made it a 3-1 game, and cut a 4-1 Boston lead back to 4-2 on a P.K. Subban power-play goal in the closing minutes, the B’s lead never really felt in jeopardy.
“I think it’s more of our brand of hockey,” Miller said. “We’ve been chasing the whole series; we get down one here, down two there. It changes our game a lot. So, I think you saw more of what our game is today.”
Within the scope of Game 5, Boston dug the Canadiens’ grave with those crucial power-play goals early in the second and buried them with strong defensive play in the third period. Now, they’ll look to put the nail in the Habs’ coffin Monday, as Boston can close out the series with a win in Game 6.
“We expect that we are going to have to play our best game yet,” said Iginla. “But we also feel like we want to keep building off what we are doing. Today feels good but that’s a part of the playoffs, it’s literally as soon as we leave the rink it’s done and it’s about preparing for that next game and trying to go in there. We know that they are going to try to use their crowd and we are most likely going to need our best game of the series.”