MONTREAL — Boston Bruins rookie winger Byron Bitz did the smart thing when he walked to tonight’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre with veteran winger Shawn Thornton.
And he also heeded Thornton’s advice and limited his coffee intake before making his NHL playoff debut in place of the suspended Milan Lucic.
“He limited me to one. So it was probably good because my heart was racing pretty fast as it was,” said Bitz after the Bruins built a 3-0 lead in the series with a 4-2 win.
So with one coffee in his system, advice from the likes of Thornton, Mark Recchi and Stephane Yelle in his head, and his own brand of maturity, Bitz accounted himself well in the victory. He logged 13:02 of ice time, mostly lined up with Yelle and Thornton, and assisted on Thornton’s goal early in the second period. On the play he outmuscled Yannick Weber for the puck and fed it to Thornton waiting in the slot.
“It was good. It was a hard-working shift,” Bitz recalled. “Thornty, he found a great spot, he was wide-open there and he had a great shot.”
Said Thornton: “I’ll tell you what, to play your first playoff game — especially coming in this barn — I think he did just a hell of a job tonight.”
Defenseman Aaron Ward also knew that Bitz would be fine getting his feet wet in the postseason after he was a healthy scratch for Games 1 and 2.
“I walked over to him before the game and he hadn’t said a word for an hour and a half. … We were getting ready to go and I sat beside him and said, ‘just so you know, this is the same game. There’s a little more volume to the building, but other than that …’ He goes, I’m fine. I was just checking,” said the veteran blueliner.
The game started the way you’d expect for Bitz. With the actual atmosphere of the arena during the introductions and the anthems far exceeding what he had imagined.
“The hair on the back of your neck stands up and it’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Bitz. “You watch the playoffs on TV growing up and you sit there and you feel that emotion. But when you’re out there, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
That unbelievable feeling could’ve turned sour had Bitz’s teammates not helped him out. At 13:18 of the second period he tripped Montreal forward Alex Kovalev. But the Bruins continued their dominating ways on the penalty kill. For the series Boston is now 6-for-6 against Montreal’s power play.
“The team picks you up like that … it was the right call, it was a tough break. They picked me up with the tough kill and that’s what our team’s all about — guys step up for each other.”
Bitz stepped up for Lucic, the team stepped up for Bitz and the result was a huge triumph in enemy territory.