Contrary to popular opinion, the referees did not win tonight’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Bruins and Montreal.
By the same token, I can debunk another myth – as far as the first six games of this series are concerned, the Bruins do not have a No. 1 line.
Sure there were some iffy calls against Boston, but a lot of the Bruins’ penalties were of their own doing. There was no denying Boston’s too-many-men violation or the subsequent slash by Dennis Seidenberg that led to Michael Cammalleri’s 5-on-3 goal.
While you can debate the severity of Milan Lucic’s boarding call, it’s a boarding call either way. And Patrice Bergeron followed that up by shooting the puck into the stands. The Canadiens took advantage again with a goal by Brian Gionta.
Those two goals were all the Habs needed for a 2-1 win, which forced Game 7 Wednesday night at the TD Garden.
If the Bruins want their season to reach May, they better not take a woe-is-me attitude and wallow in the tape of those calls, plus the slash on Nathan Horton and goaltender interference on Bergeron – which were suspiciously soft whistles against the road team at the Bell Centre.
When it comes down to it, the Bruins were done in by a couple things we’ve been writing, talking and thinking about since Day 1 of the 2010-11 season – an inability to finish at even strength and a power play that makes the Bruins’ penalty kill look like its best offensive weapon.
No one, not even the Bruins themselves, deny the power play is a disaster. It’s not even worth dissecting it anymore. If they’re not going to win battles and Tomas Kaberle’s never going to shoot, Boston might as well just use the two minutes to rest.
That leaves Boston to try to score 5-on-5, where they played pretty well all season. They finished with a top-1o offensive in terms of goals for per game. Stats, however, can sometimes mislead. And we all know that against some of the league’s better defenses, Boston struggled to finish and their goals average was skewed upward by a few massive outbursts against weaker teams.
Through six games against the Habs, Boston has gotten timely even-strength scoring mostly from the second and third lines. Only Nathan Horton’s double-overtime game-winner from Game 5 can be credited to the first line, as his other goal came off an assist from Patrice Bergeron during a line change and Krejci’s lone goal crossed the goal line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the ice.
At even strength or a man-up, the Bruins need their so-called “HuLK Line” to produce and instead have gotten bunk from their top trio. And all three are equally to blame, and they’re running out of time to get the job done.
To be fair, Lucic’s night was limited to just a little more than seven minutes of ice time because he was unfortunately but correctly ejected for a boarding call on Jaroslav Spacek. But that shouldn’t excuse him for not managing a shot on net, or for Horton also failing to fire anything on Carey Price. Krejci had a late scoring chance that Price denied, but early in the game his “slow-motion” approach to rushing the puck turned a perfect opportunity to get a shot on or work a give-and-go with Horton into a giveaway.
Most of the night, Krejci looked equally lost and Horton had the look of a guy who thought this series was best-of-five. You can forgive him for that considering this is his first NHL playoffs in his seven-year career.
However, you can’t forgive the Bruins’ “Big Three” for their no-show in this series. They’ve combined for four points and a minus-4 rating. Krejci has put just nine shots on Price. What looked like a chance for him to solidify himself as NHL No. 1 center has turned into the concrete revelation that he’s no better than a No. 2.
Some credit has to go to the defense pair of P.K. Subban and Hal Gill, who’ve leaned on Boston’s top line all series and made life difficult for them. That still doesn’t mean Krejci and his linemates shouldn’t at least be playing the Habs’ top pair to a stalemate or at least pop in some offense on the power play.
Game 7 is usually a bull ring where only the strong survive. So Milan Lucic (barring a suspension), David Krejci and Nathan Horton have a chance to make the first six games a distant memory, smother the Habs and slay Boston’s most-hated rival. Or they can continue let the horn of the bull go through their hearts and take an extra-long summer’s worth of down time to recover.