WILMINGTON, Mass. – Skating into Monday’s Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead on Philadelphia in an Eastern Conference semifinal is no time to take any aspect of the game, let alone the vital faceoff department, lightly.
That’s why you have to hope something was lost in translation when Vladimir Sobotka answered a question asked about the Bruins’ troubles at the dots against the Flyers’ top two healthy men on the draw – Mike Richards and Blair Betts – in Friday night’s Game 4 loss that extended the series.
“Every game it’s different. You have better faceoffs, you have worse faceoffs. Sometime you can win 10 in a row, sometimes you can lose 10. So it’s about luck a little bit,” said Sobotka after he was one of a handful of Bruins to report to Ristuccia Arena for medical treatment on the team’s Saturday off.
The Bruins can’t afford to leave anything to chance, especially when about a quarter of the goals in this series have been the direct result of a clean faceoff victory. While the overall faceoff numbers were nearly even after the Flyers’ 5-4 overtime win, the matchups between Sobotka, Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard against Richards and Betts – basically, the most important faceoffs – were decidedly in Philly’s favor.
Bergeron, the Bruins’ best faceoff winner all season and one of the best in the league, was 2-for-5 against Richards and 4-for-10 against Betts.
“They’re good players, they’re good centers. That’s the way it goes sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes those bounces are going to hit a stick and go on their side and sometimes I’m going to be the lucky one and it’ll go on my side. So I need to bear down and be better the next game.”
Sobotka was 0-for-3 against Betts and 1-for-3 against Richards. Savard fared a little better with a 3-for-6 success rate against Betts, but was 3-for-7 against 43 percent. That percentage against Richards includes the faceoff just before Boston’s tying goal that Richards won clean but Bergeron tracked to the Philly goal line before starting the clutch play that sent the game to overtime.
At the TD Garden Monday, the Bruins’ pivots obviously have to focus more when squared off with Richards and Betts. Prior to Game 4, they’d done an excellent job of making sure the Flyers didn’t get an inordinate amount of extra possessions by tilting the faceoff totals in their favor. The home-ice advantage obviously will help the Bruins, as it did for Game 2 and a portion of Game 1.
But there’s more at play here than just the mano-y-mano battles between the centers. The Bruins need even more plays like the one Bergeron made to turn a Savard faceoff loss into a win. The wingers and defensemen have to make an even bigger commitment to winning battles and positioning themselves properly to make sure they’re ready to prevent Philly from gaining possession. Teams backed against the wall and behind in a series tend to have that extra exhilaration over the entire 200 feet, including after draws. The Flyers showed that in Game 4; now the Bruins have to match that.
If luck dominated the faceoff battles, the linesmen could just flip a coin instead of dropping the puck. Will and determination are bigger factors than luck, and that’s how the Bruins – centers, wingers and blueliners – can turn that faceoff success rate back in their favor.