MONTREAL – The too-many-men bench minor has been a thorn in the Bruins franchise’s sides for more than three decades now.
The results of those penalties are probably too painful for my readers to stand a rehashing, so I’ll pass on providing a history refresher course.
Instead, I’ll just give credit to a too-many-men penalty for turning around the Bruins’ present situation early in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Montreal.
Down 0-2 in the series to the hated Habs in the hostile confines of the Bell Centre tonight, the Bruins needed just 68 seconds to get caught with an extra skater on the ice. The bench minor delighted the anti-Boston crowd and put the league’s seventh-ranked power play on the ice with a chance to stick a dagger in the Bruins.
What looked like the start of a season-ending journey to oblivion, however, might’ve actually been a gift in disguise. The Bruins, who played so opposite to the way they need to in order to succeed in the first two games of the series, were forced to resort to a grind-it-out, defensive-minded, self-sacrificing style right off the hop.
They not only killed off that penalty, but four more en route to a 4-2 win that turned a possible massacre into a series. On the night, the Bruins limited Montreal’s power play to just two shots on goal.
“I thought our PK was huge for us all night,” said center Patrice Bergeron, who scored an even-strength goal just three seconds after that initial kill to give the Bruins their first lead of the series. “And obviously getting that first one, and being pretty good, we almost got the momentum from that PK and we went from there.”
“The very first penalty kill we did a very good job. I think that kept us calm,” said goaltender Tim Thomas.
Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly led off that first penalty kill with a great shift. Then out went Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, followed by Bergeron and Brad Marchand. They were moving their feet, getting in the passing and shooting lanes and making smart decisions with the puck. That had to be contagious and had to send a message to the entire team that a 0-2 series deficit on enemy turf isn’t insurmountable if everyone committed to playing “Bruins hockey.”
Even the always-questionable official NHL stats sheet was reflective of the Bruins’ efforts, as it showed 22 blocked shots (the Bruins compiled just 21 in the first two games combined) and 28 hits.
Boston’s penalty kill, which ranked just 16th in the NHL in the regular season, is now 11-for-12 in this series.
“Our penalty kill’s been really, really good throughout this series,” said head coach Claude Julien, whose team has killed penalties much better dating back to mid-March. “And the goal they scored the other night [in Game 2] was of our own doing [after a giveaway]. But our guys have done a pretty good job of winning battles, taking away their space, not letting them skate into our end too easily. And they’ve been good. And there’s no doubt that when they kill penalties the way they have been, it certainly gives your bench some energy and certainly some positive feedback.”
Sometimes the best motivational coaching tactic is unintentional. The Bruins, obviously, didn’t take the ice thinking they’d go on the penalty kill as soon as possible. But from a too-many-men penalty, they then began to play like real men again.
Now that they’ve found that level of intensity and focus, and that workman-like style that’s their trademark, perhaps they can duplicate it in Game 4 without having to dodge the bullet of a penalty kill before the ice is even scratched up.
And if this series ends in their favor, the Bruins will be able to finally look fondly at a too-many-men call against them.