Bruins-Canadiens Series Looking More And More Like It Will Go Distance

brad marchandHow close has the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins Eastern Conference semifinal been? One goal is the difference between the series being a 2-2 deadlock or a 3-1 lead for Montreal. One good bounce evened everything up.

Game 4 was a display of airtight defensive hockey by both sides. Both the Habs and Bruins played about as clean of a game as can be. They combined for just three penalties in total, and both goaltenders shined throughout the night. It made sense that a game so close was decided in overtime.

While both sides had some excellent scoring chances throughout regulation, the game-winner was anything but pretty. Bruins 23-year-old forward Matt Fraser scored the first playoff goal of his career in an ugly jam in front of Canadiens goalie Carey Price. While Price tried to cover the puck, Fraser kept swiping away, and it eventually pinballed off Montreal defenseman Mike Weaver and into the net.

Although Price played well, he was edged by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask — perhaps for the first time in the series. Rask needed a good outing, as he hadn’t looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate against Montreal. Entering Game 4, he had an .884 save percentage in this series as the Bruins had a tough time keeping the Canadiens off the score sheet. Believe it or not, the Habs entered the contest with the highest-scoring offense in the playoffs. With the victory, Rask still only has five wins in 20 career starts against Montreal, but the shutout will give him confidence.

Game 4 was clearly a tide-turner in this series. The Bruins, who are still among the Stanley Cup favorites at Bovada with odds of 3-1, could ill afford to go down 3-1 in the series and expect to advance. But even just how the contest played out, it had a different feel than Games 1, 2 and 3.  For the first time in the series, the Bruins didn’t have to climb out of an early hole. They had trailed 3-1 in each of the first three games and found themselves fighting uphill in the third period each time. That can be exhausting. While they didn’t play with the lead in Game 4, they didn’t face a deficit, either.

Beyond that, they found a way to change the pace of the game and that worked to their benefit. In the first three contests, the two sides combined for an average of seven goals per game. In Game 4, there was only one tally. In many ways, the Bruins went back to their roots. Although their offense was one of the league’s best this year, it’s the defense that still butters the bread for this team. Since outscoring the Habs hadn’t been an effective strategy, they managed to drag them into a conservative game. They banked on their defense to even up the series in Game 4 and steal back home-ice advantage, and that plan worked.

The Bruins are a -200 favorite for Game 5 but make no mistakes about it: They are not out of the woods by any stretch. This is likely to be a seven-game series, with the deciding game being little more than a coin flip. However, the Bruins have been climbing out of deficits all series long, and they’re finally back on even footing. We’ll see if they can finally get the upper hand in Game 5 when the series resumes Saturday night.

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